Policy

Kelly: Homeland Isn't Targeting Law-Abiding ‘Dreamers’

“By definition, they’re no longer DACA if they have a violation”

Gen. John F. Kelly, USMC (Ret.), testifies during the Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on his confirmation to be Secretary of Homeland Security on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Homeland Security Department is not seeking to deport undocumented young people enrolled in an Obama administration program who have not violated the terms of their protected status, Secretary John F. Kelly told Senate Democrats on Wednesday.

The status of these young people, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States by their undocumented immigrant parents has been a subject of concern since President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and deport millions of people living in the country illegally. 

Although the program known as DACA remains operational, immigrant advocates have raised concerns over the arrest in February of a young man in Seattle with protected status whom the Trump administration insists has gang ties. The administration possesses the personal information of about 750,000 DACA enrollees, stoking further fears of deportations.

“By definition, they’re no longer DACA if they have a violation,” Kelly told reporters after the meeting. “The DACA status is a commitment not only by the government towards the so-called Dreamer, but by that person to obey the law, and some of them don’t. We have not picked up — I don’t care what you read or people say — we have not in my time picked up someone who was covered by DACA.”

But roughly 20 Senate Democrats who attended the meeting appeared divided on Kelly’s assurances. Their session Wednesday follows a contentious meeting between Kelly and House Democrats earlier this month on the Trump administration’s immigration policies and tactics. 

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said she left “with frustration” and that Kelly’s openness to lawmakers was “open to interpretation.” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., agreed, saying, “Frustration would be a good word.”

But Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said the meeting was “very positive.”

“There was some clarity that came out of it in terms of the standards that are being used at Homeland Security, and some reassurances,” he said.

Durbin said it was not fair to broadly characterize the meeting as frustrating to all senators in attendance. 

“I think there are some who are frustrated, and that’s fair,” he said. “There are others who believe the secretary made a good faith effort to answer the questions. What remains to be seen is what happens next.”

Durbin said he would recommend undocumented young people who qualify for DACA to enroll in the program. Advocacy groups had advised against it following Trump’s election.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters Kelly had agreed to testify on various immigration issues at a hearing next week.

In a previous meeting with House lawmakers, Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York described Kelly’s tone as “dismissive” of lawmakers’ concerns. Senators did not describe the same tension Wednesday.

Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.