The Trump administration pushed forward its policy of ending immigration benefits for Central American countries despite advice to the contrary from its own intelligence analysts.
A set of documents released as part of a court case Tuesday show the Department of Homeland Security's intelligence analysts warned that ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Central American countries would ultimately result in more illegal immigration.
The documents were first reported on by CNN.
Under TPS, foreign nationals from countries that undergo natural or man-made disasters are allowed to remain in the United States -- regardless of their migratory status -- until their home countries are deemed to have recovered enough to reabsorb their migrant populations.
Under President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has so far ended TPS for six countries, four of them in Central America and the Caribbean.
The intelligence analysis, dated Nov. 2, 2017, discusses the possibility of immigrants from those four countries -- El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua -- either returning illegally to the country or overstaying their permits once their TPS expires.
The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) found that citizens of all four countries would likely have the means to return to the United States via illegal methods, and that Salvadorans and Hondurans would "have the highest rate of illegal return migration."
Previous administrations more or less summarily renewed TPS for Latin American countries, using the program as an escape valve for economic and social pressures in the region.
The 260,000-plus citizens of El Salvador with TPS benefits, for instance, have been in the U.S. since at least 2001, when twin earthquakes struck the country.
But the Trump administration has made a policy of focusing on the temporary nature of TPS, demanding that Congress change the program's statute if it wants to make permanent benefits for any particular group.
In a Nov. 6, 2017 email released as part of the court documents Tuesday, former DHS Acting Secretary Elaine DukeElaine Costanzo DukeBiden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Trump mulled selling Puerto Rico, former aide says MORE pushed back on White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE -- Duke's predecessor at DHS -- on alleged criticism over her decision to extend Honduran TPS on that day.
"These decisions along with the public statements will send a clear signal that TPS in general is coming to a close," reads Duke's email to Kelly.
Several outlets reported that month that Kelly was heavily critical of Duke's decision to avoid a decision on Honduran TPS, thereby granting a six-month extension on the country's designation by default.
At the time, administration officials downplayed Kelly's criticism of Duke, saying she had consulted with him as she would for any important decision.
In her email, Duke justified her decision on internal intelligence reports and State Department reports that ground conditions in Honduras would not allow reabsorption of the emigrant population.
"These decisions were not made for fear of criticism, every decision I makes receives criticism," reads Duke's email. "While some are portraying this differently, this decision is really just a difference in strategy to get to the President's objectives. I truly believe this is the right path. And my record should stand for itself."
Many TPS decisions were also reportedly made against the advice of senior American diplomats in the affected countries.
In a May report, the Washington Post revealed diplomatic cables where the administration was warned against the repatriation of Central American TPS holders.
The cables mirror the internal I&A assessment, which warns the return of hundreds of thousands of expatriates would overwhelm the infrastructure and economy of Central America.
Of the three countries covered in the report, the situation is laid out as most dire for El Salvador, which has the largest number of TPS holders and the most complex country conditions.
Honduras was labeled in the report as having "limited" ability to support returning citizens, and Nicaragua's authoritarian practices are labeled as a potential push factor for TPS holders to consider illegally returning to the United States.
TPS for El Salvador is slated to end on Sept. 9, 2019; for Honduras on Jan. 5, 2020; for Haiti on July 22, 2019; and for Nicaragua on Jan. 5, 2019.