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Trump's pick for Homeland Security chief says border wall 'will not do the job'

David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- For more than a year, Donald Trump has rallied supporters by vowing to build a "big beautiful" wall along the nearly 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, calling it crucial to stop migrants, drugs and criminals from entering the United States.

John Kelly, the president-elect's choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for guarding the nation's borders, said Tuesday that a wall won't solve the problem.

Kelly, a retired four-star general, told his Senate confirmation hearing that cutting the flow of migrants and illegal drugs would require addressing rising violence and lack of opportunity in poverty-stricken countries in Central and South America, not just building a wall.

"A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job," Kelly told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "It has to be really a layered defense."

Kelly endorsed using diplomacy and targeted foreign aid, not just arrests and deportations, to boost border security.

He called for increasing counternarcotics aid, investment and other assistance to Central America and as far south as Peru and Colombia, as well as for creating a "drug demand reduction campaign" in the United States.

He said most migrants from the region who enter the U.S. are looking for jobs and to escape drug-fueled gang violence back home.

In written answers to committee questions, Kelly said he had "only briefly discussed the wall with" Trump and had "no discussions" with him about who would pay for it.

Rather than building a single long wall, he suggested one that would "funnel the flow in certain directions and into specific cul-de-sacs" as part of a multilayered defense that would include more border patrols, aerial drones, ground sensors and other devices.

Kelly is expected to win easy Senate confirmation. No lawmaker on the panel voiced opposition to him.


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