To everyone but Trump’s most hard-core supporters, his first six months in office have been a colossal failure. He hasn’t been able to get any major legislation through Congress, his executive orders are mostly tangled up in legal battles, and he’s made this country a laughing stock on the global stage.
However, there have been two major success stories for the Trump administration. The first has been commented on a lot—he gave the religious right their anti-choice justice on the Supreme Court. The second hasn’t received as much attention, but comes to the fore with the president’s decision to make General John Kelly his chief of staff. (Before the announcement, Kelly served as Trump’s secretary of homeland security.)
I have previously noted that this appointment highlights the fact that Trump likes military generals because of their immersion in a culture of hierarchy and dominance. But Kelly is also the one person in the president’s cabinet who has successfully implemented his portion of the Trump agenda. Julianne Hing explains that Kelly has turned DHS into a deportation machine.
Indeed, in the last six months, Kelly has turned the DHS into one of the most productive arms of the Trump administration. Kelly managed to translate much of Trump’s brazen anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric into actual policy. And if the numbers are any indication, Kelly has certainly flourished. Arrests since Trump took office in February increased by 40 percent over the prior year. But perhaps more important than the numbers is Kelly’s impact on immigrant communities, where apprehension and fear now reign.
Here is how Kelly managed to accomplish that 40 percent increase:
In a sweeping February memo, Kelly did away with the Obama-era policy of prioritizing the deportation of those who’d been convicted of serious crimes. On paper (if not always in practice), the Obama administration directed immigration agents to focus their energy on those who’d been convicted of serious crimes and to largely leave alone those who’d been convicted of no crimes. In February, Kelly wrote: “Unless otherwise directed, Department personnel may initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens encountered during the performance of their official duties.” Translation: Every undocumented and deportable immigrant would now be fair game.
Gone are the tiers of enforcement that the Obama administration put forth. Even as Trump himself says that he wants to rid the country of the “rapists” and “murderers” among the immigrant population, Kelly has pursued a policy that targets all undocumented immigrants. Kelly’s policy effectively blurs the line between who is an “immigrant” and who is a “criminal”—despite what Trump says. On a practical level, immigration agents no longer have to think carefully about whether an undocumented immigrant they come across is a priority, because anyone who’s undocumented can go. As a result, those with no criminal records or those with the most minor of infractions are as much at risk as those with serious convictions.
When challenged, Kelly simply told his critics to shut up.
Congressional critics of the Department of Homeland Security should “shut up’’ and assume the agency is acting appropriately and following the law, the agency’s chief said in a combative public speech Tuesday.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,’’ Secretary John F. Kelly said. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.’’
This is the guy a lot of people in the media are hailing as “a beacon of discipline” who will sort out the chaos in the White House. The truth is, he’s been successful at terrorizing and deporting those who don’t have a voice in our media and/or politics. But I doubt that “shut up and trust me” is going to work as well when his victims are not those who live in the shadows.