01.20.17

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination of General John Kelly To Be Secretary Of Homeland Security

General Kelly is no stranger to the problems we face along the southern border.  As the commander of U.S. Southern Command, he is familiar not only with immigration challenges, but with drug trafficking.  While I am grateful that he has not subscribed to the singular approach that President Trump has thus far proposed with respect to constructing a wall along our southern border, I am deeply concerned that he has admonished so-called sanctuary cities and has testified that accelerating the deportation of undocumented immigrants will provide the solution to our broken immigration system.  These views are not supported by the facts, and they are contrary to the work undertaken by the Senate just four years ago to comprehensively address these problems.  I am also concerned about his tenure as the military officer in charge of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, given reports that he opposed its closure and limited press access to the facility.

Vermonters know that the explosion of heroin and opioid abuse across the country can, in many ways, be attributed to the cross-border trafficking of illegal drugs.  General Kelly has been a strong defender of a U.S. counter-narcotics strategy which, in my view and the view of many others, has been a costly failure.  Since President Reagan’s first Andean Counter Drug Program, the inter-related problems of drugs, corruption, and violence that have plagued countries in South and Central America, and spilled over into our own country, have gotten progressively worse. 

I do not doubt that General Kelly will be confirmed to this post.  Knowing that, I do want to work with him to build on successful policies such as preclearance operations, TSA pre-check, and the visa waiver program.  I look forward to partnering with him to ensure the continuation of efforts to keep our northern border secure, while remaining open to the trade and commerce we conduct with Canada, our largest trading partner.  I look forward to working with General Kelly to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is fully supported and able to respond to domestic disasters.  And I look forward to working with General Kelly to address vulnerabilities in our cyber infrastructure.  

There are many challenges ahead.  The Department of Homeland Security was hastily created in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and, in my view, has become an unwieldly bureaucracy that suffers from inadequate transparency and accountability.  This has resulted in adverse, sometimes severe consequences for many vulnerable people and their families, who deserved better from this country.  The Department needs significant reform in order to effectively confront these challenges, and I urge General Kelly to seek the input of a wide range of experts, as well as Congress, in identifying and implementing long overdue reforms.  And above all, I hope General Kelly, as the Secretary of Homeland Security, will provide a thoughtful and reasoned balance to the extreme proposals thus far put forward by President Trump.

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