Plans to hire 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and another 5,000 for the nation's Border Patrol are a law enforcement force, not a deportation one, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in an interview airing Sunday.
"[These are] men and women who will do their jobs in the future as they've done them in the past," Kelly told NBC "Meet the Press" anchor Chuck Todd.
"That is [to] execute and uphold the nation's laws. There are a huge number, as you know, of illegal aliens or undocumented individuals that have to be dealt with in one way or another."
The "hugely complex series of laws," though, need to be straightened out by Congress, he continued. "We are a nation of laws, and I would hope that the Congress fixes a lot of these problems."
The laws already on the books are straightforward, and say that people who are here illegally should either leave or be deported. But Kelly said the situation is complicated.
"There are people who came here as children," he said."There are people here who came here illegally many years ago and have married local men and women and had children. It's a very complicated problem. But the law is the law. But I don't have an unlimited capacity to execute it."
Meanwhile, being in the United States illegally won't necessarily get people targeted, Kelly said, and instead, ICE is operating more to target criminals.
That will mean that people who might not necessarily have been deported under the Obama administration could be ordered to leave under President Donald Trump, Kelly said.
"Someone, as an example, with multiple DUIs, even a single DUI, depending on other aspects, would get you into the system," Kelly told Todd, noting that that type of infraction would be "unlikely" to attract notice during the Obama years.
"You have to remember that there's a system, a legal justice system in place, and the law deports people," Kelly said. "Secretary Kelly doesn't. ICE doesn't. It's the United States criminal justice system or justice system that deports people."
Todd said there had been reports that polygraph examinations would be eliminated for new border patrol agents, but Kelly denied that.
"I would tell you that the men and women of ICE, Secret Service, I mean everybody is very, very high quality people," said Kelly. "They are dedicated professionals. They're well trained.
Their background is vetted extensively. But the current polygraph system takes a long time, it's very arduous and it's not very pleasant."
However, people coming out of the military and occupations where they have have had a high level of clearance may not need to go through the tests, said Kelly, but that does not mean they won't be completely vetted.
Meanwhile, Kelly said, one of the largest problems with immigration is the number of people who overstay their visas. Also, he said, the border must be secured.
The good news is, Kelly continued, that the number of illegal aliens crossing the border has dropped by 65 to 70 percent in the last two months. He believes Trump's tough campaign rhetoric contributed to that, as well as the added attention being given by people such as himself and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Securing the border may take a combination of physical barriers and walls, said Kelly, but in the end, "nothing replaces men and women, dedicated, patrolling that border. Nothing."
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who has served as commander of United States Southern Command, the Unified Combatant Command responsible for American military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, said Sunday that there is also the issue of drugs coming across the southern border.
"The trafficker's biggest problem is not getting drugs, till now, into the United States," he said in the Sunday interview. "The biggest problem they had was laundering the money."
Marijuana is not a factor in the drug wars, Kelly said. Instead, methamphetamine and heroin are "virtually all produced in Mexico," and cocaine comes from further south, and all three are killing Americans.
"The solution is not arresting a lot of users; the solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill," Kelly said, "and then rehabilitation, and then law enforcement, and then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."
Kelly said he got "almost no interest" from the Obama administration in the drug wars, but Trump has "recognized this and has taken it on."
"But it has to involve everyone, Chuck," said Kelly. "It has to involve sports figures, Hollywood, obviously the president. Everybody. Much as we've done in various other campaigns to reduce bad behavior."
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