Trump's Former Chief of Staff Slams Border Wall As 'Waste of Money,' Says Immigrants 'Overwhelmingly Not Criminals'

Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff John Kelly didn't hold back in voicing his disapproval of the president's hardline position on immigration, disagreeing with his former boss's classification of immigrants as "criminals," as well as his insistence on building a border wall.

"They're overwhelmingly not criminals," Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who officially left his position at the White House at the beginning of January, said Wednesday during an on-stage interview at Duke University, Politico reported. "They're people coming up here for economic purposes. I don't blame them for that," he said.

John Kelly listens as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with government cybersecurity experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on January 31, 2017. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The former chief of staff, who first served as Trump's secretary of homeland security, also described the president's long-touted border wall as a "waste of money." Although Kelly said some areas of the southern border with Mexico would benefit from a physical barrier, he stated firmly: "We don't need a wall from sea to shining sea."

Kelly left the White House amid Trump's now-infamous government shutdown, which lasted 35 days to become the longest in U.S. history. The partial shutdown began as Trump refused to sign a bipartisan budget to keep the government funded because it did not include $5.7 billion he had demanded for a border wall. Inevitably, the president was forced to cave and sign essentially the same budget more than a month later as his shutdown took a negative toll on the U.S. economy, even leading to flight cancellations and delays.

Although Trump signed the budget, he followed it up with a controversial national emergency declaration. Through declaring an emergency on the southern border, Trump has argued that he can reappropriate money already approved by Congress for other uses to build the wall. The move has faced harsh criticism from Democrats and Republicans as well as legal challenges. Critics argue the decision is clear overreach by the executive branch of government, as Congress is tasked with managing the country's finances.

President Donald Trump inspects border-wall prototypes in San Diego, on March 13, 2018. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

"I think the whole national emergency thing right now is going to be wrapped up in the courts, if it even really gets through Congress, which right now it doesn't look like it will," Kelly said during his Wednesday interview, according to CNN reporter Zachary Cohen. "Thank God we have the courts," he added.

Democrats in the House of Representatives, with the support of some Republicans, have voted to block the national emergency declaration. Several Republican senators have already signaled their intentions to vote with Democrats in support of blocking the emergency as well. However, the White House has said that Trump will veto the resolution if it passes the Senate, It's unlikely that Congress would have the two-thirds majority required to overturn what would be the president's first veto. As a result, analysts believe the fate of Trump's controversial declaration will be decided in court.