Kelly pressured DHS chief to expel thousands of Hondurans: report

Kelly pressured DHS chief to expel thousands of Hondurans: report
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White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE pressured Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to cancel the immigration status of nearly 60,000 Hondurans, according to The Washington Post.

Duke decided Monday to extend Honduras's designation within an immigration program known as temporary protected status (TPS), which allows citizens of designated countries to live and work in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had a Monday deadline to decide whether to keep TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua.

Duke kept the deadline, but waited until 8 p.m. to make an announcement. She declined to make a decision on Honduras, which automatically triggered a six-month extension of the designation.

According to the report, Duke was angered by what she saw as Kelly and White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert's "intrusion" into the decisionmaking process.

Kelly was Trump's first secretary of Homeland Security, but left the post in July to become Trump's chief of staff after Reince Preibus was ousted from the role.

Jonathan Hoffman, a DHS spokesman, told The Washington Post that it was “perfectly normal for them to discuss the issue before she had reached a decision.”

“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on a policy. The Acting Secretary took those views and advice [on] the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law,” said Hoffman.

A White House official confirmed that Kelly and Bossert called Duke from Asia, where they are accompanying President Trump on a two-week trip.

The official said Kelly was frustrated with Duke's "lack of decisiveness," according to the newspaper.

“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on TPS. 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," said Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for Duke. 

Duke's choice to allow Honduran TPS to automatically renew without further comment contrasts with then-DHS Secretary Kelly's decision on Haitian TPS in May.

Houlton told The Hill it was Duke who called Kelly, in light of his Haitian TPS experience.

"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. Regarding TPS, the Acting Secretary believes that the current law is clear and DHS will enforce it," said Houlton in an email.

Faced with a similar deadline, Kelly extended TPS for nearly 50,000 Haitian citizens for six months, but warned that time "should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients."

On Monday, senior administration officials announcing Duke's decision on Honduras said "it is possible that the current [Honduras] designation may be permanently terminated with appropriate delay at the later date."

Countries are designated for TPS when they go through natural or man-made disasters. The designation allows for the country's citizens in the United States — legally or illegally — to remain and work until the designation is lifted.

Past administrations have consistently renewed TPS without much fanfare. Some Salvadoran recipients have been in the United States for nearly 20 years.

Kelly has led the charge in the Trump administration to focus on the program's temporary status and kick any permanent solution to Congress.

By statute, TPS designations are supposed to end when the conditions that necessitated the measure in the home country have improved and no longer make it necessary.

Honduras and Nicaragua were placed on TPS after they were hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The effects of the hurricane have since subsided, but the two countries remain among the poorest in the hemisphere, and Honduras is one of the most violent.

Duke — or her successor, if DHS secretary nominee Kirstjen Nielsen is confirmed in time — will have to decide on TPS designations for Haiti by Nov. 23 and El Salvador by Jan. 8.

There are nearly 50,000 Haitians on TPS in the United States and nearly 190,000 Salvadorans.

Nielsen's nomination was also an issue in the call between Kelly and Duke, according to the report. Nielsen was Kelly's chief of staff at DHS and his deputy at the White House. 

Kelly reportedly made the case to Duke that Nielsen's nomination could be hurt by failing to cancel Honduran TPS.

“He was persistent, telling her he didn’t want to kick the can down the road, and that it could hurt [Nielsen’s] nomination,” an administration official told The Washington Post.

Duke also tangentially lashed back at Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonNorth Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump Trump, Tillerson pledged to ease travel ban to win World Cup bid MORE, who last week sent a report saying conditions in Honduras and Nicaragua had improved enough that they'd be able to reabsorb their citizens.

By law, State must weigh in on conditions on the ground before DHS makes a final decision on TPS designations.

- This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.