Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly makes remarks during House Homeland Security Committee hearings Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The panel heard testimony on "Ending the Crisis: America's Borders and the Path to Security." Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called President Donald Trump's executive order on entry into the United States "lawful and constitutional" but testified before Congress on Tuesday that the rollout should have been delayed.
"The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially people that might be coming here to harm us would not take advantage of some period of time that they could jump on an airplane and get here," Kelly said to members of the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington.
He said, "in retrospect, I should have delayed it just a bit."
The Jan. 27 executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, and indefinitely halts refugees from Syria.
The new secretary expects the order to survive legal challenges, saying the Trump administration will "prevail and be able to take the steps necessary to protect our nation."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is expected to hear arguments later Tuesday about whether to reinstate the ban. A District Court judge issued a nationwide injunction Friday against the president's travel ban.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the committee, said he -- along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- helped put together a draft of the order during the White House transition.
But McCaul said: "The rollout of his executive order has been problematic. It caused confusion here in Congress, across the country and around the world. And it caused real problems for people with lawful green cards and visas, who in some cases were already in the air when the order was signed."
During questioning, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asked Kelly if any "bad people" have been let into the country after the executive order was halted.
"Let's just say, for instance, a person who is trying to get to the United States to do some harm, some terrorist attack, is coming in during this period that the courts put a stay on our enforcement. We won't know that until an individual who's a bad person, until they do something bad," Kelly said. "But it's entirely possible that someone that's coming in, whether it's during this stay court action or previous to this, they intend to do us harm."
Thompson followed up: "But you don't have any proof at this point?"
Kelly responded: "Not until the boom."
People were banned from Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria.
"The vetting on the other end, in those seven countries, are suspect," Kelly said. "And Mr. Trump, and certainly in my view, we have to do a pause, which he ordered."
Kelly's testimony about about border security included Trump's plan to construct a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"I am committed to executing President Trump's plan to secure our southern border with effective physical barriers, advanced technology and strategic deployment of law enforcement personnel," he said. "While the presence of physical barriers and additional technology is essential, it must be bolstered by persistent patrol and the vigilance of the dedicated men and women of DHS."