Department of Homeland Security chief John Kelly spent the weekend trying to calm down angry and confused employees across multiple DHS agencies who received no warning about the Trump administration's executive order on immigrants and refugees, were unsure of their role in its implementation, and fearful of what else may come down the pike.
The Daily Beast surveyed 20 DHS employees from a range of agencies—including Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services, the Transportation Security Adminsitration, and DHS—whose job would be affected by the executive order in some capacity. Of that group, 19 of the employees—some of whom process refugee applications from the impacted countries—had learned that Trump had signed the executive order from the news media. The other employee said they had learned about the EO about an hour before it was signed, and only because they happened to overhear a coworker yelling on the phone outside the bathroom.
For example, a TSA employee found out about the EO—and the pushback to that order—when protesters began rushing his place of work, a major airport.
“They knew there were protests but didn’t tell us. That’s not safe to walk into the unknown,” said that TSA employee.
It’s part of a pattern of chaos that unfolded in the EO’s wake. According to the New York Times, Kelly himself only found out that Trump was signing the order when his staff saw the president doing so on television.
In calls with senior Customs and Border Patrol and other DHS agency management, Kelly tried to assure his staff that the order was neither odd or illegal—and that nothing of the sort would be rolled out under his watch. Rather he, added, according to two employees briefed on the calls, staff should "expect a return to Bush era policy."
It appeared to several DHS employees that Kelly signaling that he would—as much as possible—insulate his staff from the craziness of the Trump executive orders and whatever else may come down from the White House.
“I think he’s saying that whatever we hear, we should know that there’s going to be method, procedure, tactics,” said one Border Patrol officer. “I think the general is saying, ‘We’re not going to be doing crazy shit off the cuff.’”
Several employees across agencies directly involved with implementing the executive order heard this promise, but said they remained most concerned about being kept completely in the dark about the EO beforehand.
Kelly is planning to bring better interdepartmental and agency communication, in part, by restocking the DHS press office. According to two sources with knowledge of the matter, David Lapan, who is currently director of the Defense Department public affairs office, is the top pick to run the DHS press shop. He didn’t immediately reply to the Daily Beast’s email for comment.
For some, the changes can’t come quick enough.
“I appreciate what Kelly said and if true, returning to Bush era policy would be fine,” said a border patrol employee. “But honestly, I’m operating on the belief that this is all crazytown.”