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DHS Secretary John Kelly Says He Regrets Rollout Of Immigration Orders


The Trump travel ban figured in an earlier hearing today, this one in the House of Representatives. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly admitted to some regrets over the executive order. Kelly told Congress that he should have delayed its implementation, but he defended the travel ban, which he called a pause, as lawful and constitutional. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Kelly, in his first appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, immediately took the blame for the rocky rollout of the travel ban. He said he should have given lawmakers a heads up before the president signed the order which bans travel from the seven nations and curtails refugee programs.


JOHN KELLY: In retrospect, I should have. 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, particularly the leadership of committees like this to prepare them for what was coming.

NAYLOR: Kelly rebutted criticism from lawmakers upset with how some travelers were reportedly treated at airports the weekend the order was put in place. He said no one was forced to stand for hours at a time and that the Customs and Border Patrol agents under his command behaved professionally.

He said the temporary ban or, as he called it, pause in immigration was needed because vetting from the affected nations was loose and that many of the countries on the list were failed states. He was asked why Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from, was not on the list.


KELLY: The issue is places like Saudi Arabia do have very, very good police forces, intelligence forces, so we know when someone comes from Saudi Arabia who they are and what they've been up to.

NAYLOR: Democrats pushed back against the executive order. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the senior Democrat on the panel, argued that the ban could put Americans at risk.


BENNIE THOMPSON: Suspending the admission of refugees like this teddy-bear-holding, 4-year-old Somali girl who had to be vetted for years does nothing to make us safer. To the contrary, the executive order makes America less safe by serving as a recruitment and propaganda tool for terrorist groups.

NAYLOR: But Kelly said thousands of people who fought alongside ISIS in Syria could have the kind of papers that would allow them to get into Europe and then to the U.S. And he seemed to suggest judges might be too isolated to rule properly on the issue.


KELLY: In the case - and I have nothing but respect for judges, but in their world, it's a very academic, very almost in a vacuum discussion. And of course in their courtrooms, they're protected by people like me.

NAYLOR: Kelly also said it's possible some terrorists have already entered the country while the court stay has been in place but that no one will know until they act or, as Kelly put it, until the boom. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.