BROWNSVILLE, RGV – John F. Kelly, the new U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, says securing the Southwest border starts with drug demand reduction in the United States.
It also requires the U.S. helping Central American countries socially and economically, Kelly said, at a congressional hearing earlier this week.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, who quizzed Kelly at the hearing, was pleased with these remarks. However, he was less pleased that Kelly also supports a border wall.
The hearing was held by the House Homeland Security Committee.
Like Vela, U.S. Rep Will Hurd of San Antonio is a member of the committee. Hurd showed slideshow pictures of Lake Amistad and Santa Elena Canyon during his questions, in an attempt to get Kelly to agree that building a border wall is not necessary in areas where there is already a physical barrier. But, Kelly would not rule a border wall out in such areas. He said he would first talk to border protection agents that work on the border.
Here is a full transcript of the questions and answers involving Kelly, Vela and Hurd:
Rep. Vela: Is President Trump’s promise to build a 2,000-mile big beautiful wall that will cost 14 billion dollars paid for by Mexico a viable option?
Secretary Kelly: The President, Congressmen has tasked me to take a look of what we need on the Southwest border and come up with recommendations for him. Yes, there are many, many places where we need some type of physical barrier right now, backed up by men and women of Border Protection. There are other places where we need physical barrier, if we can afford it in given time. But, yes, there’s no doubt in my mind that a physical barrier, backed up men and women, using technology, working with local law enforcement at the state and local level will go a long way to securing the Southwest border.
Rep. Vela: But building the 2,000-mile wall, that was promised during the election, is not the best way to achieve border security. Wouldn’t you agree?
Secretary Kelly: I wouldn’t agree with that at all, no. It’s a layered defense that starts with drug demand reduction. It continues with helping, particularly the Central American countries socially and economically. That for sure will start to stop the movement or some of the movement of illegal aliens. For sure an immigration system that doesn’t take two, three, four years to return people, this will deter people coming up from the Central American countries. Most of whom are good people. I don’t criticize them at all for wanting to come to the United States. So, there’s no one single solution, but for sure in my opinion, barriers and patrolling the southwest border is a big part of it.
Rep. Vela: Some of these things I think we would be able to agree on, but I forcefully reject the idea of building a wall along the Southern border. The fact is that Mexico is an ally, it’s our third largest trading partner, our second largest export market, and when you consider the relationship we have with the country of Mexico, that is right on our border, and compare it to that of Russia, the idea that we would build a wall along that border doesn’t make any sense to me. But, what we would like to you about is the…
Secretary Kelly: Can I just ask you something?
Rep. Vela: Of course.
Secretary Kelly: If 100 percent of the heroin, methamphetamines, and the cocaine are coming in through the Southwest border and hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens are coming up through the Southwest border and billions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit goods are trafficked, watches, electronics and things like that, are coming up through the Southwest border, I think that argues that we do something with the Southwest border. And again, the people that worked the problem every day, CBP, are telling me ‘Boss, you all, as elected officials, we need a combination of barriers, technology.’ I don’t see any other option. It is a gaping wound in our defenses. Drugs, people, the whole bit. So, we gotta do something down there. But I don’t get your point about…
Rep. Vela: No, I agree that we have to do something. What I am saying is… and let me ask you this. Has somebody in CBP has told you that we need a 2,000-mile wall built along that border?
Secretary Kelly: People at CBP that work the sectors don’t know about… like if you go down to McAllen, Texas, where I was, they don’t know what they need in Arizona, they don’t even know what they need at the Big Bend in Texas. They say ‘Boss, right here I need fence so I can control the flow of people and drugs.’ But I would argue that we should look at the entire border, and where it makes sense, and it might make sense to do it for 2,000 miles – actually for 1,300 miles, since there is already 600 miles of fence there – but to do it either to fill it in, or maybe there are some places that is too rugged to put a wall, we cover that with patrolling and technology. But the people that work the border will tell you that physical barriers, and backed up by men and women on patrol is what we need to secure the Southwest border.
Rep. Vela: And I agree that we have to do something, but what I am saying is… what I am asking is, has anybody at CBP suggested that we should spend 14 billion dollars to build a 2,000-mile wall along the southern border?
Secretary Kelly: The people at CBP will tell you that we need physical barriers backed up by people and technology. And again, the people have looked at it holistically, at the headquarters level, will tell you that, yeah, we need a physical barrier. The people locally, though, and that is really more important to me, they can tell you exactly where they want in 10, 12 or 15 miles tomorrow, and then 50 miles the next day, and then 100 miles. That’s more important input to do to me than anything.
Rep. Vela: We are running out of time and I appreciate some of your comments today and earlier in the Senate testimony with respect to the social economic conditions in Central America, and what we have to do to address that. I’m particularly appreciative of your comments with respect to our country’s tendency over the past few decades to ignore the issue of demand. I look forward to working with you in all these things. But just real quick, to talk about the terrorists threat. Wouldn’t you agree that the threat of terrorists entering this country is a threat that exists at our international airports, from Boston, New York, Washington, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles. At our seaports along the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean… right? And at our southern and northern border, correct? And what I am wondering is, if we obsess ourselves only with the southern border, are we not missing the boat?
Secretary Kelly: Well, we are not obsessing ourselves. The immediate and the gaping wound, or the largest opening and the most uncontrolled part of our border is the Southwest border. As far as our air heads go, where people come here, almost a million people a day come to our country, most of them are foreigners… but, we do a real good job at the airports, a real good job at the airports. On the northern border the good news on the northern border is, Canada is an unbelievable partner, and we don’t get much… there’s some but there’s not much that flows in from Canada. So, I think you have to look at… never forgetting Canada, never forgetting the seaports, never forgetting the airports, but right now, we have a completely exposed flank called the Southwest border, and there’s no doubt we have to do a lot of different things there. It starts 1,500 miles south of the Southwest border. Certainly, the Mexicans are important but we have to look at the immediate problem, and the immediate problem is the Southwest border.
Rep: Vela: I got more questions, but I am out of time, so thank you, Secretary Kelly.
Rep. Hurd: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and Secretary, is great to have you here. I think most of the people on this dais would probably agree that we live in a world that’s probably more dangerous than our parent’s, and our children are probably going to inherit a world that it’s more dangerous than ours. And, I am glad you are willing to continue your public service because I think you are the right man for the job, and you have the right perspective. My concern is that I feel like we need to stop talking about getting in the wall-making business and get into the border security business, and your concepts of defense in depth I think is the right place to be. Now, we talked about physical borders and I have 820 miles of the border with Mexico, I have more border than any member of Congress, and we have talked a lot about physical barriers, and we are going to see if this works. Can you advance the first slide? Mr. Secretary you have the pictures, the first picture is the Amistad Lake and Amistad Recreation area, would this be considered a physical barrier? And can we advance the next slide so we can show where the actual international boundary is?
Secretary Kelly: In my view, that is a physical barrier, but is easily crossed unless we patrol it.
Rep. Hurd: Absolutely, patrolling it, technology, making sure we know… but, building a wall in the middle of Amistad Lake,- I guess it wouldn’t be a wall, it would be another dam – is probably not the right, it’s a misuse of funds, because I would like for the money that would potentially go to building a wall in the middle of a lake, go into hiring more people, to helping with national security collection in Mexico, to give your folks additional intelligence to stop the problem before it gets to our border. Director (Steven) McGraw, he’s the director of Texas Department of Public Safety, he’s going to be testifying on the next panel, he has written statements that ‘the border is best secured at the border, and forfeiting territory to cartels is not acceptable.’ And I would say working with our partners to stop it from happening is important. Can we advance to the next slide? This next one is the Pecos River and in flows into the Rio Grande, and it’s about 10 miles west of Comstock in Val Verde County. The perspective is hard to see, but again there are cliffs on both sides. Would this be considered additional physical barrier?
Secretary Kelly: That is a physical barrier to movement, yes, Congressman.
Rep. Hurd: Thank you. And I think we have one more picture. One of my favorite places in the 23rd District of Texas, the Santa Elena Canyon and the Big Bend National Park, it is south of Terlingua, and I think you can tell, again, can we show where the international boundary is, that looks like two or three physical barriers along the international boundary, would you agree with that Secretary?
Secretary Kelly: That is a physical barrier to movement.
Rep. Hurd: Would there be any value of building a wall somewhere in that…
Secretary Kelly: Well, not to be cute, but I think I would like to talk to people that patrol that region. It clearly won’t be down the middle of a river. They may tell me that the flow of individuals that move through all of those pictures, that there may be a need for some physical barrier, so… and as we discussed yesterday on the phone, I look forward to getting down there, taking a look, kicking the tires and talking to people.
Rep. Hurd: I would love to take you down there, and one of the things they are going to tell you is they need horses in this part, in order to do pursuit… and I don’t think the folks in the San Diego sector are going to be asking for horses.
Secretary Kelly: It is amazing for me. I actually own, now, 42,000 horses. As a city guy, I wouldn’t know how to even begin. But if they need horses there, and that is what they need, then we will look at that, for sure.
Rep. Hurd: Good copy. Secretary, looking forward to working with you because again this is an important issue for all of us, and I think you are the right person for the job.