White House chief of staff John Kelly told members of the House Hispanic Caucus that they should be grateful he didn’t allow the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in the U.S. to be deported immediately when President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA).
“I worked to get the six-month extension of DACA. I ordered that. I managed that. And everyone has thanked me for that,” he told a group of Democratic lawmakers, according to a Wednesday Washington Post story. It was reportedly the former Marine general’s way of letting lawmakers know he understands their concerns.
He went on to praise the business acumen of Mexica’s drug cartels, saying that a physical border wall as Trump promised during his 2016 campaign is impractical because drug lords will get their wares into the country regardless.
“Drug cartels will always find a way to get their drugs in so long as there’s demand in the U.S.,” Kelly said. He added that this is to be expected from people who “are very smart and good businessmen.”
The comment reportedly set of a murmur of disquiet in the room. Lawmakers later told the Post they “found it odd that Kelly would credit cartel leaders who often authorize murders as smart or good businessmen.”
The chief of staff — formerly Director of Homeland Security — explained to the assembled Democrats that he is trying to help Trump “evolve” on immigration policy and on DACA, which allows people brought to the U.S. as undocumented children to obtain a path to citizenship.
“I had a lot to do with that,” Kelly claimed. “He campaigned against DACA,” Kelly said, but has since “lightened up.”
The administration, he assured the Democrats, is no longer pushing for an actual border wall, but a “physical barrier” in many places.
“(W)e need 700 more miles of barrier,” said Kelly. “Concrete wall will only be good in certain places.”
Trump’s campaign promise of a “big beautiful wall from coast to coast,” Kelly said, were “uninformed.”
The group did not arrive at a deal, with Kelly pressing members of the Hispanic Caucus to work with Freedom Caucus members Reps. Tom Cotton (R-TN), David Perdue (R-GA) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who submitted a conservative immigration proposal last week.
Democrats urged Kelly to look at a bill authored by Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX), Pete Aguilar (D-CA) that would offer Dreamers legal protection while authorizing funding for border protection that would be a mix of wall, fencing, increased security and more manpower.
Kelly stunned the group by replying he wasn’t aware of the bill in spite of the fact that Hurd and Aguilar have spent months assembling a group of 50 original co-sponsors from both parties.
The retired general has faced accusations of racism after his pointed — and entirely fabricated — attack on Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) during a controversy sparked by Trump’s conflict with the family of a fallen soldier.