WASHINGTON — The newly installed secretary of homeland security on Tuesday defended the rollout of the controversial executive order by President Donald Trump over the weekend, saying that he and his agency had been fully involved its drafting.
The news conference by Secretary John Kelly came after days of confusion at US airports and overseas about what was intended by the order, which temporarily bans refugees and individuals from seven countries designated as high risk from entering the US.
“I knew this was under development, and I think we were in pretty good shape on how it was implemented by the workforce,” Kelly told reporters who repeatedly asked when he found out about the order and how his agency set about enforcing it.
CNN reported that it wasn’t until the day the order was signed that career staff at Homeland Security were able to see the final details. Numerous officials told CNN the traditional inter-agency process had been side-stepped and the White House largely worked on the order in isolation.
How to deal with US green card holders shifted as the order was put in place. At first, DHS interpreted the order to not apply to legal permanent residents and issued that to airlines. The White House overruled that on Friday night, before later clarifying that judgments would be made on a case-by-case basis and legal permanent residents would be allowed in barring other concerns.
Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan acknowledged Tuesday that communication broke down, after he faced repeated questions from the press about why airlines were given contradictory guidance, why individuals were detained for hours, and about reports that some individuals were given forms to sign giving up their residency status, as well as why the Department of Defense was not aware as of Monday that Special Immigrant Visa holders were allowed to enter.
“I think it’s fair to acknowledge that communications, publicly and inter-agency, haven’t been the best in the rollout of this process,” McAleenan said, in the only instance in the news conference that implementation could have been better handled.
Kelly said on Tuesday that he had seen “at least two” drafts of the order, and that he was aware the order would be signed Friday as of Thursday night.
“I did know it was under development, had an opportunity to look at at least two, as I recollect, drafts as it got closer to Friday,” Kelly said, when asked for specifics on who was involved. “Don’t exactly know other than my legal shop representatives were involved, I would imagine some, on the landing team (from the transition), I would imagine some of them, but the point is, it came to the department, it was on a close-hold basis.”
Kelly said “only the people that needed it,” including himself and agency lawyers, were given access. “It was a back-and-forth process, I did talk to a representative in the White House oh probably earlier in the week about where it was going,” he said. “Pretty busy week, I didn’t get involved in correcting grammar or reformatting the thing.”