Retired Marine General John Kelly is Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of Homeland Security, according to multiple reports.
The 66-year-old, who led the U.S. Southern Command until earlier this year, will be the fifth person to lead DHS and the first who is not a lawyer. He’s the third general slated to join Trump’s team, which already includes retired General James Mattis, incoming secretary of Defense, and National Security Adviser Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.
In recent years, Kelly has served as an aide to Defense secretaries Leon Panetta and Robert Gates and led troops in Iraq. In 2010, his son Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly was killed in Afghanistan, making the older Kelly the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in America’s post-9/11 wars. That “played a role in his selection by Mr. Trump,” who “wanted people on his national security team who understood personally the hazards of sending Americans into combat,” the Times reports.
At DHS, Kelly will be in charge of issues ranging from border security and immigration to preventing terrorist attacks. Immigration reformers are already cheering his selection. Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement that Kelly “will bring a renewed commitment to controlling our borders and ensuring the safety of the American homeland.”
Kelly is often described as a “border-security hawk”and he has spoken about the “existential” threat at the southern border. At a 2015 Senate hearing, he said that “the relative ease with which human smugglers” cross the border “could unwittingly, or even wittingly, facilitate the movement of terrorist operatives or weapons of mass destruction toward our borders.” This testimony reportedly caught the attention of Steve Bannon, who made sure Trump interviewed the general.
During his time at U.S. Southern Command, Kelly earned a reputation as a straight-shooter who butted heads with the Obama administration more than once. He was, for instance, publicly opposed to closing Guantanamo Bay. “I wouldn’t want to be a detainee,” he told NPR. “But if you got to be a detainee somewhere, Gitmo is the place to be.”