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Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly presented an ambitious schedule for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border during an interview Wednesday.
“The wall will be built where it’s needed first, and then it will be filled in. That’s the way I look at it,” Kelly told Fox News. “I really hope to have it done within the next two years.”
Kelly visited McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, where he learned first-hand about the challenges that border patrol agents face. One of the busiest areas along the border is the Rio Grande Valley, which is also known as the “RGV Sector.” Border patrol agents pick up at least 600 people trying to cross the border into the U.S. illegally on any given day, Fox News reported.
“Any discussion about the protection of our southwest border involves discussion of physical barriers but also of technological sensors, things like that,” Kelly said. “But it’s a layered approach, and it’s got to be backed up by great men and women who are going to make sure that the wall is intact.”
Kelly echoed President Donald Trump in saying that the government already has the authority under existing law to plan and construct the wall. However, the Department of Homeland Security faces the difficult task of funding and constructing the barrier, which would be the largest construction project in Trump’s real estate history.
“We’re looking at the money aspect,” Kelly acknowledged. But he indicated that Trump will be working with Congress on construction timetables.
“I think the funding will come relatively quickly, and like I said, we will build it where it’s needed first as identified by the men and women who work the border,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that the construction project can be expected to begin within a couple months and that he would support a “surge” of resources to be sent to the border so that authorities can process illegal immigrants within weeks versus “600 plus days,” Fox reported.
“If we could surge the court proceedings–immigration court proceedings on the border–and within the law, do it very rapidly … I think that alone would act as a huge deterrent for people who are considering making the trip up,” he said.
As for hostility to the wall from Mexico, Kelly said the safety of Americans comes first, though he wants to build a partnership on shared border issues. “I’d really like to establish a relationship on this, on the other side. It would be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Kelly also defended his agents in the wake of last week’s controversial executive order suspending the refugee program and restricting travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. As his agency came under fire over the weekend, he said the department worked to verify reports of mistreatment, and could not. Kelly suggested critics had blown the issue out of proportion.
“Mr. Trump is not loved by everyone in America, and I think this very rapid succession of decisions, I don’t think the American public is really all that used to people making decisions,” he said. “I really don’t think they’re used to people that say things on the campaign trail actually turning them into action.”
Kelly also addressed previous media reports that hinted that he did not know about Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned refugees from entering the U.S. until the president signed it last Friday.
“As soon as I was confirmed, which was on Friday a couple of weeks ago, inauguration day, I knew that they were being developed,” he said.
When Kelly was asked whether he was blindsided by the executive order, he replied, “Not at all. I saw the initial couple of cuts on them probably on Tuesday, maybe Thursday, knew it was coming soon and then it came.”
Kelly retired last year after more than 45 years of service in the military and had not planned to return to full-time employment in Washington. He and his wife were relaxing when he received a call from White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
“We were sitting on the couch when I got the original call on a Saturday afternoon and Reince Priebus called me,” Kelly said. “I don’t know him. Once he convinced me it was really Reince Priebus, he said, ‘Would you come up and talk to Mr. Trump, he’d like to talk to you about a position in the administration.’ And I said, ‘I can do that, I’ll be up tomorrow.'”
When Kelly told his wife there was a chance that he would be offered a job in the Trump administration, she told him that she wanted him to take it and that the Kelly family is a “life of service.”
Trump administration’s proposal for new venue and inclusion of non-traditional media follows president-elect’s latest outbursts against mainstream reporters
Talk radio hosts and bloggers could be given greater access to official White House press briefings once the Trump administration takes office, under a highly irregular proposal being floated that may also remove briefings from the West Wing.
Trump’s pick for White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Sunday that due to “off the chart” interest in the new administration, the president-elect was considering moving briefings from the James S Brady press briefing room, which has been used by presidents to address the media since 1970, to a venue with a greater capacity.
A report published by Esquire magazine on Saturday indicated the venue could be inside the Old Executive Office Building, just west of the White House.
“I know change is difficult sometimes,” Spicer told Fox News. “But sometimes change can actually be better.”
Spicer argued the proposal would mean “you can involve more people, be more transparent, have more accessibility”. He suggested that this would mean outlets that are not traditionally part of the White House press corps would be able to ask questions during presidential press briefings.
“There’s a lot of talk radio and bloggers and people that can’t fit in right now and maybe don’t have a permanency because they’re not part of the Washington elite media,” Spicer said, “but to allow them an opportunity to ask the press secretary or the president a question is a positive thing. It’s more democratic.”
Around 200 journalists make up the White House press corps. The Brady press briefing room holds 49 permanent seats for major media organisations, which are granted space by the White House reporters (WHCA). The Guardian is among those outlets allocated a space.
White House briefings are open any journalist that seeks access and passes security clearance, but the president more typically takes questions from major news organisations with an allocated seat.
It remains unclear how the proposal would be implemented, but it is likely to be interpreted as a hostile rebuke to conventional media outlets around the country.
Jeff Mason, the WHCA president and Reuters White House correspondent, said he had a “constructive”, nearly two-hour meeting with Spicer on Sunday. Mason “emphasized the importance of the White House press briefing room” and its proximity to West Wing officials.
“I made clear that the WHCA would view it as unacceptable if the incoming administration sought to move White House reporters out of the press work space behind the press briefing room,” Mason said in a statement. “Access in the West Wing to senior administration officials, including the press secretary, is critical to transparency and to journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
Spicer agreed to discuss any changes to the current system with the WHCA, Mason said.
During a chaotic press conference at Trump Tower on Wednesday, the first the businessman has held since July 2016, hundreds of journalists crammed into a small pen as Trump frequently lambasted certain media organisations and occasionally individual reporters. Trump was incensed by reports on a leaked and unsubstantiated dossier, which alleged frequent contacts between his campaign team and Russian authorities, and suggested the Kremlin held compromising material that could be used to blackmail Trump.
Trump was also asked by a reporter at Breitbart News what his views were on media ethics and “fake news”, to which he replied: “Some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother. You have a few sitting right in front of us.
“They’re very, very dishonest people, but I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with. I guess the advantage I have is that I can speak back.”
According to the Associated Press, Breitbart News, branded by critics as a racist, far-right news site, was the only media organisation to have a reserved seat in the front row for the conference. Steve Bannon, Trump’s incoming chief strategist and senior counselor, previously served as the site’s executive chairman.
The president-elect’s campaign drew consistent support from numerous conservative talk radio hosts and internet conspiracy theory sites, for instance Alex Jones’s InfoWars. During the campaign, Trump took the unprecedented step of appearing on Jones’s site, known as America’s foremost conservative conspiracy theory outlet. Jones has previously dismissed the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 elementary school students and six school staff were murdered, as “completely fake”, and has branded the September 11 terror attacks an “inside job”.
Trump was interviewed for around 30 minutes by Jones in December 2015, and later called Jones a “nice guy”. Jones claimed in November that Trump called him to thank him for his support after winning the presidential election.