He will now be Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"We cannot all be masters, nor all masters / Cannot be truly followed."– Shakespeare, Othello, 1604.

Retired United States Marine Corps General John Kelly was picked by the 45th President of the US soon after his inauguration on January 20, 2017 for another stint of public service as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump’s choice of Kelly was not without reason. The General, while in active service in the Marine Corps as Head of the US Southern Command, when addressing a 2015 meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had pointedly linked border-security issues with the on-going War of Terror and raised ‘the possibility’ of "terrorist organizations seeking to leverage those same smuggling routes (in Central American and Mexico) to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to US citizens or even bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States."

Kelly’s words were characterized at the time as being "a little over the top" by Frank Sharry, the Executive Director of the immigration-reform group America’s Voice. But given the Trump campaign’s hard line rhetoric on immigration, both Trump and his transition team were excited about hiring the retired General in the event of electoral victory.

The Trump Administration has achieved precious little in the six months in office, except, of course, on its extreme immigration policy. And for that, he has thank only one man – General John Kelly.

Wrote Julianne Hing in The Nation: "Indeed, in the last six months, Kelly has turned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into one of the most productive arms of the Trump administration. Kelly translated much of Trump’s brazen anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric into actual policy. Arrests since Trump took office in February increased by 40 per cent over the previous year. But perhaps more important than the numbers is Kelly’s impact on immigrant communities, where apprehension and fear now reign."

Julianne then named the key policy changes in DHS that Kelly had implemented in just six months on the job:

* Ending prosecutorial discretion for undocumented immigrants.

In a sweeping February memo, General Kelly did away with the Obama-era policy of prioritizing the deportation of those who’d only been convicted of serious crimes. On paper (if not always in practice), the Obama administration directed immigration agents to focus their energy on those who’d been convicted of serious crimes and to largely leave alone those not convicted of any crimes. In February, Kelly wrote: "Unless otherwise directed, Department personnel may initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens encountered during the performance of their official duties." [Translation: Every undocumented and deportable immigrant would now be fair game!]

Julianne notes, by way of clarification, that even though Trump himself wants to rid the country of the ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers’ among the immigrant population, General Kelly has pursued a policy that targets all undocumented immigrants, thus effectively blurring the line between an ‘immigrant’ and a ‘criminal’ – despite what Trump says. On a practical level, immigration agents no longer have to think carefully about whether an undocumented immigrant they come across is a priority, because anyone who’s undocumented can be deported.

Julianne then went on to record a heart-rending instance of an immigrant Trump supporter. "I think our President is going to keep all the good people here," Helen Beristain, a Trump voter, told CNN, as her husband, Roberto Beristain, faced deportation. He had not been convicted of a crime. "He’s not going to tear up families. I don’t think he wants to do that. He just wants to keep us safe," Beristain said of Trump.

But Roberto was, in fact, later deported!

* Redefining who a ‘criminal alien’ is.

In those same February memos, Kelly expanded the notion of a ‘criminal alien’. Now, a ‘removable alien’ is anyone who has been convicted of a crime, been charged with a crime, or even committed anything that might be a ‘chargeable criminal offense’ (jaywalking, anyone?). Immigrants who committed any kind of fraud (like using a fake Social Security number) or abused any public benefit would also be a priority for deportation, alongside anyone who had an order of removal that they’d ignored. But, perhaps most stunning, Kelly directed the department to pursue anyone who, "in the judgment of an immigration officer," posed a national-security risk to the country. [Translation: In short, any and every immigrant could be targeted by an immigration official.]

* Ending DAPA.

DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) refers to a never-implemented program from the Obama years which would have offered the parents of undocumented youth and green-card holders short-term protection from deportation. Last month, Kelly formally dismantled the program.

DAPA was an expansion of the successful initiative DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gave select undocumented young people work permits and protection from deportation for two years. Nearly 800,000 young people have taken advantage of the program, which allowed them to get jobs, pursue education, and build their careers. It’s also been good for the economy. A Center for American Progess survey found that 20 percent of surveyed DACA recipients bought a car after obtaining DACA, and that one in 12 even bought a home. DAPA, however, got stalled in the courts after dozens of states led by Texas sued the Obama administration. The program would have benefitted an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, but the Trump administration decided not to defend the program in court.

* Weighing the expanded use of ‘expedited removal’.

A leaked DHS memo revived an idea which was originally tucked into General Kelly’s original February memos. The memo called for expanding the use of ‘expedited removal’, which is the practice of bypassing immigration courts and summarily shoving people out of the country. As of 2004, its use was limited to those who were apprehended within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border and who couldn’t prove that they’d been in the country for more than two weeks.

General Kelly’s proposal would greatly expand the policy to include anyone apprehended anywhere in the country who hadn’t been in the United States for more than 90 days. This policy change would hand immigration officers even more power over the fates of the people they detain. This, to be clear, is just a proposal. But even in 2013, 44 per cent of removals happened via ‘expedited removal’.

So, the bottom line here is that, if General Kelly’s short tenure at Homeland Security is any indication, his elevated role as White House Chief-of-Staff will be a disaster for immigrants, never mind who replaces him at Homeland Security, a process in which he will undoubtedly play a large part.

In late January 2017, after the rollout of the President’s Executive Order banning travel from seven Muslim countries went horribly awry – with mass protests, immediate legal challenges, judicial orders blocking its implementation, and an international outcry – Kelly was called before Congress to explain the whys and wherefores of the chaos. "This is all on me" Secretary Kelly said, taking full blame for the failed attempt to impose a religious-test restriction on refugees and visitors that critics correctly labeled as a ‘Muslim ban’.

By virtually all accounts, the ban was the brainwave of White House strategists Bannon and Stephen Miller, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Readers would do well to remember what General Kelly told a February House Homeland Security Committee oversight session: "I work for one man. His name is Donald Trump."

One can either like it, or lump it. End of story.


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