DHS Secretary: Federal Courts Are Preventing Needed Security Measures


Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly tore into federal court injunctions currently blocking President Donald Trump’s executive order on foreign travel and refugee admissions to the U.S., saying the courts are preventing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from doing “what we need to do to protect our homeland.”

There are “more terrorist hot spots … than in any time in modern history,” Kelly said Tuesday during his testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. He pointed to the specific danger of jihadi fighters traveling to the West from countries targeted in the executive order and, eventually, making their way to the U.S. to carry out attacks.

Kelly says federal judges have it wrong: the proposed travel restrictions are not about discrimination against a particular religion or nationality, but about limiting travel from particular countries that pose an especially severe risk for terrorism.

“We need to prevent bad actors, regardless of religion, race or nationality from entering our country,” he said, adding that the executive order was “all about security for the United States, and nothing else.”

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Trump’s revised order, which federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland stayed in March, would pause admissions from six terrorist-connected countries for 90 days: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also also suspends the admission of refugees for 120 days.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals maintained a hold on the travel ban in late May, ruling that the administration’s order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination” and is effectively a ban on Muslims. The Department of Justice has said it will seek a Supreme Court review of the case.

In the meantime, Kelly says, DHS lawyers have advised him to steer clear of reviewing both the visa restrictions and potential changes to the way the department vets potential refugees for resettlement. The U.S. refugee admissions process is of particular concern because applicants often lack verified identity documents to prove who they are.

“The refugees that we deal with have no paperwork, they have no passports, so we have to take their word,” Kelly explained, adding that “we have exercised entirely too much good faith” in past admissions.

In light of recent terrorist attacks in Western Europe, the committee inquired if the DHS was considering changes to the visa waiver program, which allows travelers from certified countries to enter the U.S. without going through the normal visa application process. Kelly responded that he is “comfortable” with maintaining the current structure of the program because the 38 participating countries “have, more or less, what we have” in terms of security and intelligence sharing.

“We’re in very good shape in those countries,” he said. “We set the bar very high [for security standards].”

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