When Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke announced two weeks ago that rather than terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Hondurans, as was expected, she would not make a decision on the program until May of next year, many Central Americans breathed a sigh of relief.
With Salvadoran TPS coming up for a renewal decision in January, it appeared that the Trump administration was reconsidering its harsh stance on Central Americans protected by TPS.
In her message announcing the deferral of a decision on the extension of Honduran TPS, Duke said that she wanted to examine additional evidence of the impact that termination of the program would have on United States objectives in the region. It seemed as though the Trump administration might be turning away from immigration policies that emerged from an anti-immigrant ideology and towards an evidence-based approach.
Two days later, a report from the Washington Post dashed those hopes. According to the Post, before Duke issued her statement, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called her to “pressure her to expel” the Hondurans. Tom Bossert, the White House’s Homeland Security advisor, also called to lobby her to end the program. The Post said that “Duke refused to reverse her decision and was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion by Kelly and…Bossert.”
The Post reports that a White House official described Kelly as frustrated with Duke’s lack of decisiveness. Kelly reportedly told her that ending TPS “keeps getting kicked down the road” which “prevents our wider strategic goal” on immigration, according to the unnamed official. Kelly had called her from Asia, where he was traveling with Donald Trump.
A federal official familiar with the calls told the Post that “Duke was angry. To get a call like that from Asia, after she’d already made the decision, was a slap in the face.” A former official said that that “they put massive pressure on her.”
Kelly apparently wants TPS out of the way before Duke resigns and before his handpicked successor to take over from her, Kirstjen Nielsen, goes before the Senate for her confirmation hearing. Nielsen is Kelly’s deputy in the White House, and she was his chief of staff while he was Secretary of Homeland Security earlier this year. A vote on her nomination may come before Thanksgiving.