Sec. Kelly says DREAMers aren’t being targeted, days after first-ever deportation

“My organization has not targeted these so-called DREAMers.”

CREDIT: Screenshot/CNN
CREDIT: Screenshot/CNN

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that DREAMERs, people brought to the country as children protected by President Obama’s executive action on immigration, aren’t being targeted by his agency. But just four days ago, news broke that a DREAMer was deported from the country.

“My organization has not targeted these so-called DREAMers, DACA, and we have many, many more important criminals to go after and get rid of, and not the DACAs,” Kelly said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, using the acronym for the Obama-era “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program.

State of the Union host Dana Bash followed up by asking, “Just to be specific: What has the president said to you and what is he communicating he wants you and your department to do? Does he want you to go after these DREAMers or is he explicitly saying leave them alone, don’t target them?”

“The president told me to do two things,” Kelly replied. “He told me to secure the southwest border, all of our borders and, of course, focusing now on the southwest border, and to take the worst of those that are in our country illegally, take them, look for them and deport them. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Kelly’s comments come less than a week after news broke that, for the first time, an active DACA status holder was deported from the United States. Last month, Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old who had been approved for DACA twice, was deported to Mexico — sending shockwaves through the immigrant community.

As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the DACA program, which is still in effect under Trump, “has granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization for 752,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.”

Under DACA, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers are told to show leniency and exercise prosecutorial discretion to “ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines.”

Trump has not signed any order abolishing the program, but that hasn’t stopped DACA recipients from being targeted. At least two other recipients have been detained and threatened with deportation: Daniel Ramirez Medina, who was smeared as a “gang member” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Daniela Vargas, who was detained after she spoke out against Trump’s deportation sweeps.

As Bash pointed out during the interview, a growing fear among the undocumented immigrant community under a Trump administration has led to a drop in people reporting domestic violence and rape. The widespread fear has also prevented many from reporting workplace injuries and enrolling in safety net programs, like food stamps and Medicaid.

Earlier in the interview, Kelly also refused to guarantee that Trump wouldn’t shut down the government over the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the United States.

“If Congress doesn’t send President Trump a government funding bill by midnight on Friday, the government will run out of money and a shutdown would begin,” said Bash. “So will the president go to the mat and insist on funding his border wall as part of the stop-gap government funding measure?”

“Dana, I think it goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for a border wall,” Kelly said. “So I would suspect he’ll do the right thing for sure, but I will suspect he will be insistent on the funding.”

The Trump administration is reportedly threatening a crackdown on sanctuary cities if the bill does not include funding for a border wall. Congress must finalize a spending bill by Friday.