Former White House chief joins firm that detains migrant children

2019-05-04 13:16
A migrant holds a sign that translates into "No More Deaths at the Borders" during a vigil for migrants who have died, have been detained and deported by US authorities. (Guillermo Arias, AFP)

A migrant holds a sign that translates into "No More Deaths at the Borders" during a vigil for migrants who have died, have been detained and deported by US authorities. (Guillermo Arias, AFP)

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Former White House chief of staff John Kelly has joined the board of a firm that operates centres for housing unaccompanied migrant children, US media reported on Friday, prompting a storm of criticism from Democrats.

The ex-Marine general – who as Homeland Security secretary proposed the controversial policy of separating immigrant children from their parents – joined Caliburn International four months after leaving the White House.

"General Kelly is a strong strategic addition to our team," said Caliburn International CEO James Van Dusen in a statement cited by various US outlets.

Democrats including 2020 presidential hopefuls accused Kelly of profiting from policies he had supervised during his stint in US President Donald Trump's administration.

"John Kelly oversaw many of the Trump Admin's most morally repugnant immigration policies," tweeted Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren.

"Now he could be making big bucks serving on the Board of a company that's profiting from the same cruel plans he put in place. This is corruption at its absolute worst."

Senator Cory Booker, another Democrat candidate, tweeted: "Profiting from your own cruel policies. This is disgusting."

Caliburn is the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services, a private firm that has been given contracts by US Customs and Border Protection.

It runs Homestead, a temporary facility for housing unaccompanied migrant children, in Florida.

Trump's battle to prevent illegal immigration and soaring numbers of asylum seekers has turned into the biggest political fight in the country ahead of next year's presidential election.

During his stint as Trump's Homeland Security secretary, Kelly said would consider separating migrant children from their parents and would "do almost anything to deter the people from Central America" getting into the US via the Mexico border.

He later became White House chief of staff, before his relationship with the president reportedly deteriorated.

In December last year, shortly before leaving the White House, Kelly said he had "nothing but compassion" for undocumented migrants crossing into the US.

"Illegal immigrants, overwhelmingly, are not bad people.... I have nothing but compassion for them, the young kids," Kelly told the LA Times, adding that many had been manipulated by traffickers.

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