Immigration Law

Officials resigned reportedly after pressure to cancel temporary protected status for immigrants

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President Donald Trump's administration ignored advice from its own diplomatic experts when it pressured reluctant Department of Homeland Security officials to end Temporary Protected Status for Honduran nationals, the Washington Post reported.

That pressure led to the resignations of former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and DHS international adviser James Nealon, the Post says, as well as several unnamed State Department officials.

Temporary Protected Status is an immigration status granted to people whose home countries aren’t able to take them back, typically because of war or natural disaster. It is frequently renewed at the advice of U.S. diplomats who work in those countries, which has given some nationals many years in the United States. The Trump administration has changed that over the past year, revoking TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans and, as of May 4, Hondurans. Those groups have 18 months to find another way to gain legal status before they must leave the country or face deportation.

The Trump administration has publicly said that the original disasters that triggered the TPS designations have long since been resolved. But according to the Post, diplomats working in those countries advised the State Department that deporting thousands of people back to them could destabilize the area and spur increased immigration from people seeking refugee status or to enter the United States illegally.

But former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others—including White House domestic policy staff and Trump adviser Stephen Miller—instead pressured Duke to end TPS for Honduras. Legally, the decision was Duke’s to make, but Tillerson advised her in 2017 that ending TPS for Hondurans “was just something she had to do,” according to an anonymous source who spoke to the Post. Duke called on Nealon, the former ambassador to Honduras, for advice, and she ultimately gave a six-month extension of TPS to Hondurans in November.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Duke from Japan to say he was “irritated” with that decision, a Washington Post article from November says. That article quotes anonymous sources saying Duke was angry and planned to resign. She resigned in February, as did Nealon. The post said it was told by seven current and former administration officials that the matter also provoked “several high-level resignations” in the State Department.

ABA President Hilarie Bass issued a statement in February expressing concern about the end of TPS for Salvadorans and Haitians. In the same month, a group of Massachusetts immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit arguing that the TPS cancellations were actually motivated by racism.

A group of Democratic senators wrote to the heads of DHS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services May 7, asking them to investigate contradictions between the TPS decisions and internal documents suggesting TPS for Haitians should be renewed. The Post says Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has also asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office for an investigation.

The Washington Post says that the Trump administration’s decisions to cancel TPS for other groups, added to its cancellation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, could push as many as 1 million immigrants out of the country or into undocumented status. If TPS holders from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador leave, the Post estimates that they could be separated from 273,000 American-born children.

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