Noting figures showing a sharp drop in the number of people trying to enter the United States illegally over the southern border with Mexico, the Homeland Security Secretary told Senators on Wednesday that he will not be recommending a border wall to run the entire length of the southwest border, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
“I will say this, that it’s unlikely that we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea,” said Secretary John Kelly, as he testified before a Senate committee.
“There’s no way I can give the committee an estimate on how much this will cost,” as Kelly said he was still developing – with the input of border officials – plans that would be a mixture of physical barriers, electronic measures and more.
Democrats quickly seized on that, wanting to know if Kelly’s boss had signed off on something that differed from his campaign pledge to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it.
“Is the President okay with fencing instead of a wall?” asked Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO).
“The President has told me, Kelly go do it,” Kelly said.
“So he knows that we’re not going to build a concrete wall – a two thousand mile concrete wall – the President knows that, right?” McCaskill pressed.
Kelly said he “had no doubt” that Mr. Trump would accept a mix of a wall, high tech fencing, and other technology along the border.
Kelly began the hearing by noting a big decrease in the number of people coming over the border illegally, as Republican Senators said it showed the get-tough-message of the Trump Administration was having an immediate impact.
“We’ve seen an absolutely amazing drop in the number of migrants coming out of Central America,” Kelly said, who noted a “dramatic reduction” in the number of women and children trying to make that crossing.
“It won’t last,” Kelly warned, “unless we do something to secure the border.”
At the same hearing, Kelly also took some heat from Republicans; at one point, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) brought up the issue of the President’s travel and refugee orders, the latest of which remains hung up in the courts.
“Next time you do a travel ban, how about thinking it through,” McCain said.