US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly offered a sharp rebuttal to critics of his department on Tuesday, challenging lawmakers who dislike its approach to immigration enforcement to change the law or “shut up.”
Employees at the Department of Homeland Security, he told an audience at George Washington University, “are often ridiculed and insulted by public officials and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and street spokespersons.”
“If lawmakers do not like the laws that we enforce, that we are charged to enforce, that we are sworn to enforce, then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws,” Kelly said. “Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
Kelly’s remarks at the event, which included a question-and-answer period, laid out a bleak worldview similar to what President Donald Trump has articulated. The country is continuously “under attack” by drug smugglers, terrorists and other criminals who hate America and try to cross its borders, Kelly said, arguing that law enforcement officials do not always get the respect they deserve for protecting Americans.
But, he asserted, that is changing.
“It stopped with President Trump and it stopped with me,” Kelly said. “My people, the men and women of this department, do a difficult and, at times, nearly impossible job and a service to the American people. They deserve our nation’s thanks and respect. They deserve to be proud of the jobs that they do. We are moving in exactly the right direction. Why? Because the best way to improve morale is to let employees do the jobs they were hired and trained to do and recognize them for doing those jobs.”
“We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the laws of this country,” he continued. “We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure. We ask nothing more than respect and support.”
Trump’s staunch opposition to undocumented immigration is among his longest-held and more controversial positions — one that critics charge borders on inhumane. But Kelly defended the administration and touted its progress, saying a recent drop in illegal border crossings was “phenomenal.”
“Fewer people … crossing the border illegally means fewer deaths in the desert, fewer people, as I say, submitting themselves to that terrible, terrible network experience,” Kelly said. “There is nothing more — and I know I speak for the attorney general — nothing more that we would like to do than put these human smugglers out of business, and we’ll do anything, our departments, to do just that within the law.”
The drop in undocumented immigration “is really remarkable,” he reiterated. “These numbers are lower because we’ve shown that we are serious about border security and enforcing our immigration laws.”
Again addressing his department’s critics, Kelly also flatly denied that agents engage in any kind of racial profiling at airports, despite reports to the contrary.
“When you hear a report of a family, an individual, whatever, at an airport being put into secondary screening or being refused entry into the United States, believe me, it’s not because of their skin color, it’s not because of the part of the world they come from, it’s not because of their religion,” Kelly said. “It may have been something they said, their story didn’t work out, it may have been something on their cell phone that brought the attention. But there is always, always, always more to the story.”