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- The Homeland Security Department decided on Monday to extend the temporary protected status of thousands of Hondurans in the US. White House chief of staff John Kelly was reportedly frustrated by the decision, calling the acting Homeland Security directly to push back against it.
An “irritated” John Kelly called acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on Monday to pressure her to rescind the protected residency status of some Central American migrants, current and former administration officials told The Washington Post.
Monday was the Homeland Security Department’s deadline to decide on the status of nearly 60,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans who were permitted to remain in the US under temporary protected status after 1998, when Hurricane Mitch struck Central America.
Trump administration officials have been generally critical of temporary protected status as a misguided immigration policy, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had notified Homeland Security that conditions in Central America had improved enough to send them back.
Duke ultimately decided to end the status for Nicaraguans, who now have until January to change their immigration status or leave the country. But she deferred a decision on the Honduran immigrants for six months, believing she did not have enough information on that group and wanting to act cautiously, as many of them have lived in the US for 20 years or more.
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Kelly, who was Homeland Security secretary before being named White House chief of staff this summer, reportedly called Duke from Japan as Homeland Security officials were preparing to announce that decision.
Part of his concern was about questions Kirstjen Nielsen – a close associate of his at Homeland Security and in the White House – could face about temporary protected status during her confirmation hearing to be the new Homeland Security secretary, though he didn’t mention her by name.
While he reportedly acknowledged that decision was Duke’s to make, Kelly “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 Post.
Kelly also reportedly said that extending the status further “prevents our wider strategic goal” on immigration.
Duke was angered by the move, according to the official.
“To get a call like that from Asia, after she’d already made the decision, was a slap in the face,” the official told The Post.
A White House official confirmed the call to The Post, saying Kelly was frustrated with Duke’s perceived indecisiveness. A Homeland Security spokesman told The Post that it was “perfectly normal” for White House and Homeland Security officials to discuss the decision before it was finalized.
Nielsen faced a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday but did not receive any questions about the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the US under temporary protected status.
Kelly was heralded upon his selection as Homeland Security secretary, but he was criticized for his dealings with immigrant groups and for pushing forward President Donald Trump’s widely criticized immigration and border policies. Trump appears to hold Kelly in high regard, and Kelly has backed many of the president’s more contentious positions.