Kelly: Courts Have Blocked Me ‘From Doing Those Things I Know Would Make Americans Safe’

Susan Jones | June 6, 2017 | 11:40am EDT
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Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (Screen grab from C-SPAN)

( – Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress on Tuesday that he expects that some of the foreign fighters who traveled to Iraq and Syria to return home to continue their plotting, and “we expect that some will look to travel to the United States to carry out attacks.”

But because the courts have blocked President Trump’s temporary travel ban, Kelly said he is “not fully confident” that the Department of Homeland Security is doing “all that we can to weed out potential wrong-doers.”

“Bottom line, I’ve been enjoined from doing these things that I know would make Americans safe, and I anxiously await the court to complete its action one way or the other so I can get to work,” Kelly told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Reading remarks that were not included in his written testimony, Kelly told the committee that regardless of what the “chattering class” calls Trump’s executive order, he hopes the matter can be quickly resolved.

Kelly never used the phrase “travel ban.” (President Trump defended his travel ban terminology in a series of tweets on Monday, writing: "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN." Kelly and other Trump aides had previously rejected the term as inaccurate.)

Kelly read the following remarks to the committee:

The president has issue clear direction in the form of an executive order to the entire executive branch to prevent the entry of aliens who seek to do us harm.

But the current court injunction, of course, prevents us from taking steps right now to improve the security of the homeland until we see how that court action plays out.

While some discuss, debate and argue the name, title or label that best describes the president’s EO (executive order), professional men and women like me are actually in the business of implementing the president’s intent to secure the nation, and we are doing that.

We’ll let the chattering class, the self-appointed critics, talk about the name. I just hope the Congress sees the wisdom of what the president is trying to do to protect America and its people and that the Congress are willing to work with those of us in the business of securing the nation.

Kelly said the court injunction has prevented DHS from implementing a temporary ban on travel by aliens from six countries that are in states of civil war or state sponsors of terrorism  and are basically failed states.

He noted that these are the same counties identified by Congress in 2015 as nations of great concern. He said the expectation at that time was that additional attention and vetting would be given to people from those countries.

“It has nothing to do with religion, or skin color or the way they live their lives, but all about security for the United States, nothing else,” Kelly said. “These are countries that either unable or unwilling to help us validate the identities or backgrounds of persons within their borders.

“I can tell you right now, because of the injunction, I am not fully confident that we’re doing the best we – all that we can to weed out potential wrong-doers from these locations,” Kelly continued.

“The injunction also prevents me from actually looking into the information that we need from each country to conduct proper screening – not just from the six countries identified in the executive order, but from every country across the globe.”

Kelly said the injunction also prevents him from studying ways to improve the security of the refugee program.

“Bottom line, I’ve been enjoined from doing these things that I know would make Americans safe, and I anxiously await the court to complete its action one way or the other so I can get to work," Kelly said.

"The men and women of DHS will do everything we can – always, always, always within the law to keep the American people safe.  But the delay has prevented us from doing that."

Kelly said he cannot prepare a report on extreme vetting measures as long as the court injunction is in place.

He said DHS has been “very, very, very cautious, extra cautious, in getting anywhere near where the court might consider we’re not following their instructions.”

Although DHS is “thinking about” additional extreme vetting procedures and other countries that may require such procedures, DHS is “not studying them” because of the injunction, he added.

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