Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said Tuesday at George Washington University that lawmakers should either change the law or "shut up" and allow DHS employees to do their job.
During his talk, Kelly discussed employee morale at his department. He said that DHS employees have been used as political pawns.
"For too long, the men and women of my department have been political pawns," the retired Marine general said. "They've been asked to do more with less and less and less. In many ways similar to the treatment suffered by our law enforcement over the past few years, they are often ridiculed and insulted by public officials and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and street spokes-persons."
When Kelly met with Democratic lawmakers in March, he told lawmakers that if they don't like what his department is doing in regards to immigration then they should change the law. Democrats left the meeting upset and angry at Sec. Kelly, but he repeated the message on Tuesday.
"If lawmakers do not like the laws that we enforce, that we are charged to enforce, that we are sworn to enforce, then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws. Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines," Kelly said at George Washington University.
According to Kelly, DHS employees were unable to do their jobs because of political meddling and crippling bureaucracy.
"My people have been discouraged from doing their jobs for nearly a decade, disabled by pointless bureaucracy and political meddling and suffered disrespect and contempt by public officials who have no idea what it means to serve," Kelly said.
Morale issues have been a consistent at the department for several years, and Kelly said lawmakers often ask him how he plans to improve the situation.
"My response has simply been, when you discourage, when you disable, when you unjustly criticize and default to believing the initial reports as opposed to defaulting to believing the stories told by my professionals – when you do all of those things and show disrespect to the individual who's risking his or her life to defend the country – when you do those things, what do you expect?" he said.
Kelly noted that the morale at the DHS has improved since President Donald Trump was sworn in as president.
"All of this stopped on January 20. It stopped with President Trump and it stopped with me," Kelly said. "My people, the men and women of this department, do a difficult and at times nearly impossible job in the service to the American people. They deserve our nation's thanks and respect. They deserve to be proud of the jobs that they do."