The Trump administration won’t attempt to build a barrier along the entire length of the nation’s 2,000-mile border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday.
“It’s unlikely we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea,” he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
The pledge to build a wall was the cornerstone of Donald Trump’s campaign for president, with Trump declaring “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall."
Yet Wednesday, no Republican fully defended Trump’s position. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested a wall could be defined several ways, such as having drones, towers, fences and technology to detect tunnels. Trump is proposing that Congress spend $4.1 billion to begin construction on a border wall with Mexico.
Kelly said Wednesday that some sort of wall would be built but he did not have an estimate of how much it will cost U.S. taxpayers and exactly where it would go.
Border agents will be consulted on the location, he said.
“We’ll do it where it makes sense and what makes sense,” Kelly said. “There’s no determination right now what this thing will look like and how long it will be.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the committee’s top Democrat, said Trump needs to acknowledge there won’t be a Mexican-funded wall stretching across the southern border.
“It’s embarrassing, it’s not going to happen. Everybody in Congress knows it’s not going to happen, every Republican knows it, every Democrat knows it. It makes no sense,” McCaskill said.
She questioned Kelly on whether Trump is aware “we’re not going to build a 2,000-mile concrete wall.”
Trump is aware he is looking at the options, Kelly said.
“I have no doubt when I go back to him and say, boss, ‘(the) wall makes sense here, high tech fencing makes sense over here, technology makes sense over here, I have no doubt he will go tell me to do it,”’ Kelly said.
McCaskill also criticized “extreme vetting” practices under consideration by the Trump administration in which foreigners, including those from allies such as Great Britain and France, could have to hand over their cellphones and answer questions about their ideology in order to enter the U.S.
McCaskill said the idea that visitors to the U.S. would need to hand over their phone passwords and answer questions about their beliefs “sets my hair on fire.”
Kelly said device searches and ideological questioning would only happen under unusual circumstances. McCain added that searches for phones can be useful. Terrorists, McCain said, are plotting how to attack the U.S.
“That’s what sets my hair on fire,” McCain said.
McCain, though, took a shot at the Trump administration’s travel ban targeting visitors from predominately Muslim nations that has been blocked by the courts.
“Next time you do a travel ban how about thinking it through? McCain told Kelly.
Kelly also faced questioning on reports that the Department of Homeland Security is considering separating children from their mothers if they are caught illegally crossing the border into the U.S. together.
Kelly said separations would only happen “if the mother is sick or addicted to drugs or whatever.” He refused repeated requests from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., that he put a policy in writing saying such separation would only happen if the child’s life is in danger.