Obama appointee backs Trump travel ban, shocks audience


Flickr\UNVIE U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna

Gil Kerlikowske, former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from 2014-2017.

Dan Flatley, Crier Staff

In a surprise to a full house at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP), a former member of President Obama’s administration said he supported President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban.  Mr. Gil Kerlikowske, stated, “I actually had no trouble with [President Trump’s] executive order, quite frankly.”

Kerlikowske was the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from 2014-2017, and he currently is a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Kerlikowske also served as President Barack Obama’s Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009-2014.

He gave a speech to Saint Anselm College students, faculty, and staff, and also members of the general public in attendance, on March 20. Kerlikowske first addressed his past positions in the Obama administration. He went on to describe details regarding his position at CBP as the only political appointee in the entire CBP, which entails supervising an organization of 60,000 people.

Kerlikowske added that he has “had no conversation with anyone from Customs and Border Protection” since he left his position earlier this year.

He also conveyed concerns about the fact that his position has yet to be filled by anyone.  Kerlikowske made clear that he is even more worried because there has been no one even nominated by President Trump, never mind confirmed by the Senate. His biggest concern was that there is not a permanent replacement in charge of the CBP.

He then spoke on the potential border wall that President Trump has proposed, and details regarding immigration between Mexico and The United States.

Kerlikowske was very democratic regarding his viewpoint on the border wall, as he expressed his concerns about how exactly the Trump administration plans to finance the wall.

He said, “It looks to me like … the first $1.5 billion or $2.5 billion is coming out of the taxpayers pocket and the estimated cost of it is between $15 billion and $30 billion.  So we will see.”

He gave multiple reasons, in addition to financing, to question the importance of a border wall between Mexico and the United States.

“One, we have almost 700 miles of a variety of wall or fencing now.  It can be the lowest level, which stops a car.  It can be very strong steel double fencing in different places.  The thing about the migration issues is one, the numbers are way down compared to the last 15 years, but also think about the fact that these are people that are mostly coming in saying ‘please take me into custody.’ So those two things are one reason to really question a wall,” he added.

Kerlikowske meant that these immigrants are searching for help from the United States and not intentionally being detained.  The second reason he gave to question a border wall is that there are far too many ports of entry to America where a wall is not feasible. He referenced the Rio Grande Valley because of the ease of entry at some spots, and the difficulty of building a wall in others. He also said that some locations along the border are privately owned and others have natural barriers to building any type of wall.

The conclusion of Kerlikowske’s speech was perhaps what surprised the crowd the most. This was when he addressed President Trump’s executive order that has since been labeled as a “travel ban.”

In regards to his support of Trump’s travel ban, Kerlikowske said that it was an examination and tweaking of border protection.

“I actually did not have any problem when they said, ‘Okay we’re going to pause in these six or seven countries. We’re going to hit the pause button for 90 days and we’re going to examine how we are doing that.’  That, I think, is perfectly fine.”

Neil Levesque, Executive Director of the NHIOP, was one of many surprised to hear that a former member of President Obama’s administration would support this executive order.

He stated after Kerlikowske’s speech in an interview with The Crier, “I think the most interesting statement [Kerlikowske] made, considering the fact that he was an Obama appointee, was that he had no problem with the actual Trump immigration executive order. He had no problem with its content, just its roll out.”

When asked after his speech if he has any comfort with the Trump administration and whether or not they are making rational decisions, Kerlikowske said, “The thing that gives me comfort is Secretary John Kelly… I think that the Department of Homeland Security was very fortunate that John Kelly was nominated. I think he holds a level of authority and a level of understanding about the complexity of these problems.”

“That said, I have been pretty concerned about some things that have occurred and I have been quite vocal about them,” Kerlikowske concluded.