By Maria Recio Special to the American-Statesman
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, called President Donald Trump’s immigration order “problematic,” telling Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Tuesday that it caused confusion in Washington and around the world.
Kelly took the rap for the clumsy rollout of the order, while defending the plan itself — on hold pending a court ruling — and stood by a related executive order to build a wall along the southern U.S. border.
McCaul, opened a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday saying that he agreed with the president’s “pause” in approving visas for visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.
“But the rollout of his executive order has been problematic. It caused confusion here in Congress, across the country and around the world,” said McCaul, who chairs the committee. “And it caused real problems for people with lawful green cards and visas, who in some cases were already in the air when the order was signed.”
Kelly, a retired general making his first appearance before the House since being confirmed, said, “The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially people who might be coming here to harm us would not be taking advantage of some period of time where they might jump on an airplane,” Kelly told lawmakers. “I should have delayed it just a bit so I could have talked to members of Congress to prepare them for what was coming.”
“This is all on me, by the way,” he added, apparently trying to deflect attacks that have been directed at the president.
Trump has been the target of criticism since he signed the order which provoked an immediate outcry and led to demonstrations at airports across the country, including at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said, “I would note that the urgent border security crisis facing our nation is not occurring at our southern border but rather is one of President Trump’s own making.”
McCaul questioned Kelly about the status of “the wall,” which Trump made a signature issue during his presidential campaign. Kelly said that the lack of a wall created a “gaping hole” in U.S. defenses.
Kelly said that he had just been to Texas — “I went to the most affected part, down to McAllen” to confer with state and local officials. “We’re not going to be able to build a wall all at once,” he said.
He said that in addition to physical barriers the border needed more patrols, “backed by people like us” and the use of more technology “where appropriate.” He also said that the agents he talked to wanted to be able to see through the barrier, indicating that a fence could be more likely than a wall.
“It’s a layered defense,” Kelly said. “There’s no one single solution. Barriers and patrolling the Southwest barrier are a big part of it.” The president’s executive order to build a wall also includes the hiring of 5,000 more Border Patrol agents.
The prospect of a continuous wall riled Texas lawmakers, such as U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who said at the hearing that he was adamantly against a wall.
Vela went a step further: He said he would “bulldoze” the portions of the current segments of border fencing because he thinks the fence is detrimental to the relationship with Mexico and ineffective in stopping people trying to cross the border.
Kelly told Vela, “Right now we have a completely exposed flank called the southwest border.”
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, whose district includes 800 miles of border, presented a slide show of some of the border, such as the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park with a red line showing where the border is located.
“What is the value of building a wall through it?” he asked.