Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly presented an ambitious schedule for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border during an interview Wednesday.
"The wall will be built where it's needed first, and then it will be filled in. That's the way I look at it," Kelly told Fox News. "I really hope to have it done within the next two years."
Kelly visited McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, where he learned first-hand about the challenges that border patrol agents face. One of the busiest areas along the border is the Rio Grande Valley, which is also known as the "RGV Sector." Border patrol agents pick up at least 600 people trying to cross the border into the U.S. illegally on any given day, Fox News reported.
"Any discussion about the protection of our southwest border involves discussion of physical barriers but also of technological sensors, things like that," Kelly said. "But it's a layered approach, and it’s got to be backed up by great men and women who are going to make sure that the wall is intact."
Kelly echoed President Donald Trump in saying that the government already has the authority under existing law to plan and construct the wall. However, the Department of Homeland Security faces the difficult task of funding and constructing the barrier, which would be the largest construction project in Trump's real estate history.
"We're looking at the money aspect," Kelly acknowledged. But he indicated that Trump will be working with Congress on construction timetables.
"I think the funding will come relatively quickly, and like I said, we will build it where it's needed first as identified by the men and women who work the border," Kelly said.
Kelly said that the construction project can be expected to begin within a couple months and that he would support a "surge" of resources to be sent to the border so that authorities can process illegal immigrants within weeks versus "600 plus days," Fox reported.
"If we could surge the court proceedings–immigration court proceedings on the border–and within the law, do it very rapidly … I think that alone would act as a huge deterrent for people who are considering making the trip up," he said.
As for hostility to the wall from Mexico, Kelly said the safety of Americans comes first, though he wants to build a partnership on shared border issues. "I'd really like to establish a relationship on this, on the other side. It would be a mutually beneficial relationship."
Kelly also defended his agents in the wake of last week's controversial executive order suspending the refugee program and restricting travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. As his agency came under fire over the weekend, he said the department worked to verify reports of mistreatment, and could not. Kelly suggested critics had blown the issue out of proportion.
"Mr. Trump is not loved by everyone in America, and I think this very rapid succession of decisions, I don't think the American public is really all that used to people making decisions," he said. "I really don't think they're used to people that say things on the campaign trail actually turning them into action."
Kelly also addressed previous media reports that hinted that he did not know about Trump's executive order that temporarily banned refugees from entering the U.S. until the president signed it last Friday.
"As soon as I was confirmed, which was on Friday a couple of weeks ago, inauguration day, I knew that they were being developed," he said.
When Kelly was asked whether he was blindsided by the executive order, he replied, "Not at all. I saw the initial couple of cuts on them probably on Tuesday, maybe Thursday, knew it was coming soon and then it came."
Kelly retired last year after more than 45 years of service in the military and had not planned to return to full-time employment in Washington. He and his wife were relaxing when he received a call from White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
"We were sitting on the couch when I got the original call on a Saturday afternoon and Reince Priebus called me," Kelly said. "I don't know him. Once he convinced me it was really Reince Priebus, he said, ‘Would you come up and talk to Mr. Trump, he'd like to talk to you about a position in the administration.' And I said, ‘I can do that, I'll be up tomorrow.'"
When Kelly told his wife there was a chance that he would be offered a job in the Trump administration, she told him that she wanted him to take it and that the Kelly family is a "life of service."