By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Department of Homeland Security will not target immigrants brought to the United States as children for deportation, despite conflicting statements within the Trump administration, its secretary John Kelly said on Sunday.
Kelly, asked on Sunday morning talk shows to clarify the department’s position on the status of these illegal immigrants protected under an Obama-era program, said the agency is focused on deporting only dangerous criminals.
“My organization has not targeted these so-called Dreamers,” Kelly told CNN, referring to the name given to those granted protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by Democratic President Barack Obama and extended by Republican President Donald Trump.
“We have many, many more important criminals to go after,” he said.
Trump has said Dreamers “have nothing to worry about,” but Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week said immigrants who arrived in the United States as children were “subject to being deported.”
On Sunday, Sessions walked back his earlier statement.
“I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported; however, we’ve got — we don’t have the ability to round up everybody and there’s no plans to do that,” Sessions said on ABC. “But we’re going to focus first, as the president has directed us, on the criminal element.”
On Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who had lived in the United States since he was 9, was deported from the border city of Calexico, California, after being questioned by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer.
That was the first documented deportation of a Dreamer.
Kelly said in another Sunday interview on CBS that while Dreamers are not being targeted, several of them end up detained by immigration officers as they round up criminals.
“People fall into our hands incidentally that we have no choice in most cases but to go ahead and put in the system,” he said.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by DOina Chiacu; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)