According to news reports, President-Elect Donald Trump will appoint retired Marine General John Kelly secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He will thus become the third general to be appointed to a major position by Trump.
He will also be the third general to run our immigration agency in the nation’s history.
His predecessors, both commissioners of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, were retired three-star Army Gen. Joseph M. Swing (1954-1962) and retired four-star Marine Gen. Leonard F. Chapman Jr. (1973-1977). Both, like Kelly, were appointed by Republican presidents, Eisenhower and Nixon, respectively.
Swing was a classmate of Eisenhower’s at West Point. He ran an enforcement program called “Operation Wetback” that expelled large numbers of Mexican nationals from the Southwest. At a time when language was less inhibited than it is now, he converted some of the illegal alien farm workers into legal, nonimmigrant ones, a process he termed “drying out the wets.” I have a sense that there was not much due process in Operation Wetback, which the general managed with a Border Patrol of only a few more than 1,000 men.
Chapman, who had been Commandant of the Marine Corps, was someone I met while at INS. I found him cold and stiff; others may have a different view. Chapman was reporting to then-Attorney General Elliott Richardson (who later resigned on principle during the Watergate years). Richardson persuaded the general to set up a small policy shop in INS that started to do some research on immigration policy and practices — a commendable move.
Gen. Kelly’s views on immigration generally are not known, though he seems to be a supporter of strong border security, an issue he discussed in Senate testimony last year, when he was still head of the U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for all military activities in Latin America.