Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security the Washington Post reported Wednesday. The pick disappointed some immigration hawks, who hoped the president-elect would tap Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to lead the agency.
One of those Kobach supporters is Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, an organization that seeks to reduce both legal and illegal immigration. Jenks said on Tuesday that she preferred Kobach to lead the government’s third-largest agency, which is responsible for fighting terrorism and enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
“Donald Trump didn’t just campaign on building the wall — he also campaigned on protecting American workers by reducing immigration,” Jenks said. “We have no idea what Gen. Kelly’s views on immigration are or what his experience is. That’s a problem.”
Jenks said Trump was the first president in her lifetime who campaigned and won on reducing immigration — and she wants to make sure his homeland security chief is also on board.
After the Washington Post reported the Kelly selection Wednesday, Jenks released a statement praising Kelly for being committed to protecting Americans, but said he had yet to show his commitment to enforcing immigration laws.
“Gen. Kelly’s background provides assurance that he would be fully committed and experienced to protect the physical security of the American people,” she said. “We will be looking for immediate signs that he will show the same commitment to enforcing immigration laws to protect the economic security of American workers and their families.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that wants to further limit legal and illegal immigration to the United States, also released a statement praising Kelly, but urged Trump to tap Kobach for another role in the administration.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled FAIR a hate group because its founder John Tanton has expressed concerns about the country accepting nonwhite immigrants.
Trump reportedly considered Kobach, as well as former Bush counterterrorism official Frances Townsend, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Mike McCaul for the job before settling on Kelly. The retired Marine general was in charge of the U.S. Southern Command, including the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, before his retirement earlier this year.
Kelly has spoken of the need for strong security on the U.S.-Mexico border, but also has shown some empathy when speaking about why migrants choose to flee their home countries in the first place. In a 2015 interview, he described how the drug trade had corrupted government officials in Central America, leading to the violence that prompted tens of thousands of children to flee the area on their own and cross into the United States illegally. “Frankly, they’re better off in our country,” Kelly said. “I’m not saying they should stay, but they’re better off here.”
Kelly has spoken about illegal immigration as a national security threat, warning in congressional testimony last year that terrorist organizations could infiltrate smuggling routes to the U.S.
This isn’t a sufficiently aggressive stand, however, for the immigration hawks who have entered the mainstream with Trump’s election. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter endorsed Kobach for the role, and retweeted a link to a story Wednesday that suggested Kobach could be tapped as Kelly’s deputy in the department.
While working in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, Kobach designed a registry for men visiting the country from majority Muslim countries that resulted in thousands of deportations. He also created the controversial SB 1070 immigration law adopted by Arizona in 2010, which was partially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kobach was photographed walking to his interview with Trump holding a paper outlining his plans for the office, which included the Muslim registry and banning the entry of Syrian refugees.
It’s unclear what Kelly would think of reinstating a registry to track visitors from “high-risk” countries. In an interview with NPR last year, he spoke of how Islam had been “corrupted” by al-Qaida and the Islamic State. “When I said it’s corrupted, the vast majority of Muslims are wonderful people, whether they live here in the United States or overseas,” he said.
He added that the ideology of terror groups was “conducted by people who are truly not representative of Islam, and stuck in the seventh century or eighth century.”
Kelly said the question of how the West could win that ideological battle was above his pay grade. “As a military guy, it’s simple for me,” he said. “My part of this equation is to kill as many of them as we can.”