White House urged DHS secretary to end Honduran immigrants' protections
Posted November 9, 2017 11:04 a.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2017 1:20 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — White House chief of staff John Kelly pressured acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to terminate protections for tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants currently living in the US, sources tell CNN.
Duke received multiple calls from Kelly pressuring her, in Duke's perception, to end Temporary Protected Status for Honduran immigrants on Monday's decision day, leaving Duke "distraught and disappointed" and ready to leave the department, according to a source familiar with Duke's thinking.
The Trump administration characterized the call as Kelly weighing in through a normal process and said Duke was committed to remaining at her post.
The Washington Post first reported on the call.
TPS is an immigration status allowed by law for certain countries experiencing dire conditions, such as a natural disaster, epidemic or war, and protects individuals from deportation and authorizes them to work in the US.
Monday was the deadline for a decision on the protected status for the roughly 86,000 Hondurans. DHS instead announced that Duke had not found there was enough information to make a formal decision, a move that triggered a six-month extension of the protected status. The administration did terminate protections for Nicaraguans, about 5,300 of which live in the US. Both populations have lived in the US for nearly two decades.
According to the source familiar with Duke's thinking, Kelly and the administration wanted Homeland Security secretary nominee Kirstjen Nielsen to avoid questions about the issue at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, and wanted to her confirmed quickly enough that she would be the one to make a decision on temporary protected status for Haitians, which is due at the end of the month and which will likely be ended.
According to the source familiar, Duke had decided over the weekend that she did not have enough information to end the protections for the Hondurans, which is what the department announced late Monday evening.
"I think she's very distraught and disappointed at Kelly and the whole apparatus," the source said. "She's out there alone, you know? It's like, 'Why do I keep doing this if you guys are just going to beat me up?'"
The source confirmed that she made reference to resigning during the back-and-forth and is inclined to leave the job.
The source described the back-and-forth as a "forceful, directive conversation."
"It was a loud conversation, it wasn't a quiet conversation," the source said.
A separate Trump administration official confirmed Kelly discussed the TPS issue with Duke on Monday and that he made it clear to her that the final decision was Duke's to make. "There was a call that focused on the chief encouraging her to make a decision," the official said. "What he was saying is that the decision should not be a temporary decision."
DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said Duke had called Kelly to discuss the process.
"As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on TPS," Houlton told CNN. "It is perfectly normal for members of the White House team to weigh in on major decisions. The acting secretary took input from the White House and other sources on the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law. As former Secretary Kelly had made a major TPS decision in May, acting Secretary Duke called him to discuss his TPS decision-making process. During that call, now-chief of staff Kelly reminded her that the TPS decision was hers alone to make as the acting secretary."
The administration official denied that Duke discussed resigning on a call with Kelly this week but could not comment on whether Kelly had been informed earlier that she planned to resign.
The official also denied the assertion that Kelly's frustration was in any way related to Nielsen's confirmation.
Houlton said that Duke remains "committed to continuing her work at DHS," citing her hosting the secretary's awards ceremony on Wednesday.