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Jan 10, 3:09 AM EST

Homeland Security pick faces questions on wall, immigration


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators are expected to press retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Homeland Security Department, about plans to build a border wall and other steps to boost immigration security.

Kelly's confirmation is almost assured, but members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will likely use Tuesday's hearing to debate the tough immigration and border security policies that were centerpieces of Trump's presidential campaign.

Kelly is one of several retired generals tapped for top positions by Trump. That has raised some concerns about undue military influence in his administration, weakening the American tradition of civilian control of government.

But Kelly is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, and his military experience is applicable to his Homeland Security role. He's the former head of the military's Southern Command, based in South Florida, which routinely works with the Department of Homeland Security to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling. The military command has also partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a part of Homeland Security, to help rescue unaccompanied child immigrants trying to make their way from Central America to the United States alone.

Kelly joined the Marine Corps in 1970. He is a battle-hardened, blunt-talking veteran who served three tours in Iraq. He was also the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan.

Kelly would be the fifth person to lead the department, which includes agencies that protect the president, respond to disasters, enforce immigration laws, protect the nation's coastlines, stop drug smuggling and secure air travel.

Republicans have long complained that President Barack Obama has been too lax in his enforcement of immigration laws and have generally supported Trump's proposals. Trump has vowed to deport millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, focusing first on criminals. Kelly is likely to be asked his views on how to accomplish that.

Trump pledged during the campaign to build a border wall - and have Mexico pay for it - though since winning the White House he has softened his stance on both the kind of barrier he wants and how it will be financed.

Last week, Republicans suggested the wall could be paid for from regular spending legislation authorized by Congress. Trump insists that Mexico would reimburse the United States for the costs, but Mexico says it will not do so.

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Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

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