Homeland Security chief John Kelly told a congressional panel on Tuesday he should have delayed U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and on all refugees so he could brief Congress on the executive order.
The temporary ban ignited international protests as the United States revoked 60,000 visas and detained some travelers who landed in the United States unaware the order had been signed while they were in flight.
"The desire was to get it out quick so that potentially people that might be coming here to harm us would not take advantage of some period of time that they could jump on an airplane and get here," Kelly told the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.
Kelly took the blame for not briefing Congress on the order before it was announced late on Jan. 27.
"This is all on me by the way. I should have delayed it just a bit so that I could talk to members of Congress," he said.
Kelly said the confusion at U.S. airports was caused by court orders challenging the ban that went out the day after it went into effect, adding that his team at the Department of Homeland Security acted swiftly to tweak their operations as necessary.
The order was signed also with little or no briefing of U.S. government agents responsible for implementing it, contributing to the confusion. There was also no agreement within the administration for several days over whether green card holders - foreign nationals from the seven targeted countries with permanent U.S. residency - should be admitted.
The White House reversed itself later and said those with green cards would be granted waivers to enter the country.
The ban was suspended by a federal judge last Friday, opening a window for refugees and citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to enter the United States, pending an appeal by the U.S government.
Trump's executive order temporarily barred travelers from the seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees, except refugees from Syria whom he would ban indefinitely.
The ban, which Trump says is needed to protect the United States against Islamist militants, sparked condemnation from critics who said it was discriminatory against Muslims and questioned its value as a security measure.
All the people who carried out fatal attacks inspired by Islamist militancy in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were U.S. citizens or legal residents, the New America think tank says. None came to the United States or were from a family that emigrated from one of the countries listed in the travel ban, it said. (http://bit.ly/2keSmUO)
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was due to hear arguments about whether to restore the ban at 3 p.m. PST (2300 GMT).
KELLY TEMPERS TRUMP IMMIGRATION PROMISES
Kelly defended the order, at the hearing, asserting that the seven countries on the list were known to have inadequate systems for sharing information with the United States on their potentially dangerous citizens.
He said reports circulated last week that 12 countries could be added to the travel ban were false, adding that no additional countries were being considered.
Kelly also said that funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration agents would only be cut on a case-by-case basis.
Trump had threatened to cut large amounts of federal funding to about 300 so-called "sanctuary cities" in order to pressure them to cooperate in the apprehension and deportation of illegal immigrants.
Kelly said he did not expect to meet Trump's hiring goals of 5,000 additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents within two years. Trump did not specify a timeline when he called for the hiring in his executive action.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Andrew Hay and Howard Goller)