John Kelly: It's not 'cruel' to separate families at the border -- children will be 'put into foster care or whatever'

Getty Images/Win McNameeJohn Kelly, the White House chief of staff.
  • The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, defended the practice of separating immigrant parents from their children at the border.
  • Kelly told NPR that “the children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”
  • He said the policy would act as a strong deterrent for families seeking to cross the US border illegally.

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, defended the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward immigrants who cross the border illegally, telling NPR that separating parents from their children could be a “tough deterrent.”

The new policy has garnered backlash from critics who say that criminally prosecuting 100% of illegal border-crossing cases, as the Trump administration has vowed to do, will require children to be taken away from their detained parents.

When asked by NPR about those who say it’s “cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children,” Kelly brushed off the question, according to an interview transcript released Friday.

“I wouldn’t put it quite that way,” Kelly said. “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

In the interview, Kelly also acknowledged that most immigrants who cross the border illegally are neither criminals nor members of the MS-13 street gang. He added that he sympathized with their reasons for attempting to come to the US but that he believed they wouldn’t “easily assimilate into the United States.”

“They’re overwhelmingly rural people,” Kelly said. “In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English – obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills.”

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