The nation's homeland security chief on Tuesday ripped into members of Congress who have opposed the Trump administration's aggressive crackdown on immigration, telling lawmakers they needed to reshape federal law or simply pipe down.
John Kelly, a former Marine general, delivered the tongue lashing during a speech at George Washington University, his first major address since being confirmed as Homeland Security secretary in January.
"If lawmakers do not like the laws they've passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws," said Kelly, whose agency oversees the federal agents tasked with airport security as well as detaining and deporting people who are in the country illegally. "Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines."
He continued: "My people have been discouraged from doing their jobs for nearly a decade, disabled by pointless bureaucracy and political meddling, and suffered disrespect and contempt by public officials who have no idea what it means to serve."
The choice words appeared to be pointed squarely at Democrats who have joined activists, lawyers and immigrant rights groups in condemning what they claim is a far more sweeping and indiscriminate approach to immigration enforcement under the new president. Critics claim that emboldened immigration agents now target undocumented residents who have no criminal record and conduct raids around places such as courthouses and schools with greater frequency.
Some lawmakers' outrage with DHS took a personal turn when House Democrats openly griped about Kelly's "dismissive" tone and vague answers on the Trump administration's immigration policies during a meeting he had with them last month.
"This is not boot camp, this is not newly inducted members of the Marine Corps," Congressman Joe Crowley, a New York Democrat, told reporters at the time, making a reference to Kelly's military background. "These are experienced lawmakers who understand the law, understand the complexities of the law and also understand the job that the secretary has to carry out the law."
Kelly, during his speech Tuesday, made it clear that he intends to do just that. "We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the law," he said. "We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure."