On April 18th, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly lashed out at critics of the Trump Administration’s mass deportation policies, saying they should “shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
We live in a democracy, Secretary Kelly. We pay our taxes, our taxes pay your salary, and you are accountable to the people who make up our nation. Telling us to “shut up and support the men and women on the front lines” is not how it works, even in the Trump era. The Constitution gives us all the right to speak up, be heard and argue for what we believe is best for the nation we love.
We had high hopes for you, General Kelly. You were supposed to be one of the “adults in the room.” But as a public servant, the combination of misdirected anger and persistent mischaracterizations call into question your suitability for the job you hold.
Recently, you went on Meet the Press and claimed that ICE was focused on “criminals, multiple convictions,” and brushed aside charges that DHS, under your leadership, is targeting those with no criminal records. But that’s not what’s happening on the ground. ICE is targeting formerly ‘low priority’ undocumented immigrants who are deeply rooted in American families and American communities. Every day we learn of cases that put the lie to your claims. In fact, we just learned your agents “on the front lines” deported a DACA recipient who did nothing wrong. Do you not know, or do you not care?
ICE and CBP are notorious for their lack of discipline, roguish behavior, and desire to go after the easy prey in order to make their statistics look good.
Just last week, more than 700 religious leaders from around the country signed a letter urging Secretary Kelly to suspend the deportation of Maribel Trujillo Diaz. She is a mother of four U.S. citizens, one with medical conditions that her mother is specially trained to address; has no criminal record; and is a lay worker in the Catholic Church. Do you really expect these voices to “shut up” as your agency rips apart her family? Her kids are “on the front lines” of your enforcement push, too. Is this the best they can expect from their government?
We get it. You’re trying to improve morale and stand behind your agents. But those agents you’re standing behind are nothing like the Marines you once commanded. ICE and CBP are notorious for their lack of discipline, roguish behavior, and desire to go after the easy prey in order to make their statistics look good. And yes, they always claim there’s more to the case, they just know the person is a danger, and after all, they can always fall back on the fact that your new priorities mean no priorities at all.
We thought you’d be different. We thought you’d stand up to Sessions the way you stood up to Bannon after the first Executive Order blew up in the Administration’s face. We thought you’d insist on accountability for those who wear uniforms and carry guns authorized and paid for by the taxpayers. And most of all, we thought you’d figure out how and when to use the discretionary authority available to you under law, regulation and long-term practice. No mercy, no how? Is that your standard for weighing mitigating circumstances?
They say you are a very decent man. So, we hold out hope that you will see the light. We look forward to the day when, instead of blasting your agency’s critics for their refusal to fall in line behind the Trump Administration’s mass deportation agenda, you ask yourself whether you really want to be leading the parade into what is shaping up to be a dark chapter in American history.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund.