Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly sounded a loud alarm Tuesday over the dangers of terrorists from overseas finding ways into the U.S., saying there are more potential terrorists than ever, and saying federal courts and reluctant state governments are hindering security efforts here at home.
Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general, said Americans who live in states that refuse to update their driver’s licenses and IDs to federal standards won’t be able to get on airplanes as of January — one of a number of steps he’s taken to try to prevent another 9/11-style airplane attack.
The secretary also said he’s eager to get a final resolution from the federal courts that have blocked President Trump’s travel ban, saying there are things he would like to do to make the country safer, but he is being blocked by the judges.
“We need to prevent bad actors, regardless of religion, race or nationality from entering our country,” he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee in a wide-ranging hearing on his department’s 2018 budget proposal.
Mr. Trump’s current travel ban would create a 90-day halt on many admissions from six terrorist-connected countries identified by Congress and the Obama administration: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The current executive order, issued in March, also imposes a 120-pause on admission of refugees.
Courts have blocked both parts of the order.
Mr. Kelly said that is hurting his efforts at security.
“Because of the injunctions, I am not fully confident we are doing the best we already can,” he said.
And the secretary said he will not allow any more exemptions for the 2005 Real ID law, which was meant to make sure would-be terrorists couldn’t board planes with suspect IDs — as many of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers did.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations repeatedly granted waivers to states to give them time to improve their IDs, but Mr. Kelly said he won’t do that.
He said governors in states that are still defying the law’s strictures should be ready.
“They should encourage now their citizens to acquire other forms of ID” to use for federal purposes, he said.