John Kelly Reportedly Berated The Homeland Security Secretary For Not Deporting Protected Immigrants
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke is reportedly upset after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly pressured her to yank protections from tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants, according to the Washington Post. The paper reported that Duke was angered by Kelly's attempt to strong-arm her into ending the temporary protected status (TPS) granted to Honduran immigrants in 1998, after a massive hurricane devastated parts of Central America.
DHS announced Monday that it would not renew the temporary protected status issued to some 2,500 Nicaraguans following Hurricane Mitch, giving them 14 months to leave the country. However, the agency pressed pause on a decision about the renewal status of some 57,000 Honduran immigrants who'd also arrived in the United States that same year under similar circumstances. According to the Post, Duke wanted to gather more information before making a final decision on their fate, given how many Honduran immigrants held protected status.
In the run-up to Monday's announcement, however, Kelly, President Trump's top aide, reportedly called Duke multiple times. Sources close to Duke told the Post she had been "angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion." Sources confirmed the incident to CNN as well, telling the cable news outlet that Duke was "very distraught and disappointed" with how much pressure Kelly had put on her, likening it to being "beaten up."
However, in a statement to Bustle, acting DHS Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton refutes reports that Duke had been pressured or that she was planning to resign.
"As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on TPS," the statement reads. "It is perfectly normal for members of the White House team to weigh in on major decisions."
Houlton claims Duke took input on her decision from multiple sources, including the White House. In fact, Houlton says it was Duke who called Kelly, as Kelly served as DHS secretary from Jan. 20 to July 31 and himself made a decision on a TPS issue during that time. In May, Kelly announced he had decided to extend the temporary protected status for Haiti for an additional six months.
But Houlton says Kelly told Duke the decision ultimately was hers to make. "During that call, now Chief of Staff Kelly reminded [Duke] that the TPS decision was hers alone to make as the acting secretary," Houlton says in the statement.
Roughly 57,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans came to the United States in 1998 and were granted temporary protected status after Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc in Central America. While DHS has yet to make a decision on Hondurans' status, in revoking Nicaraguans' temporary protected status, the department gave them until January 2019 to either leave the country or update their immigration status.
DHS also has pushed back on reports that Duke told Kelly she plans to resign. "Acting Secretary Duke is committed to continuing her work at DHS," Houlton tells Bustle. "Just yesterday she hosted the Secretary's Annual Award Ceremony to recognize many of the remarkable men and women at DHS who protect our country and whom she respects so greatly."
Regardless of whether these calls with Kelly push her to resign or not, Duke is already scheduled to be replaced as head of the department. President Trump nominated deputy White House Chief of Staff Kirstejen Nielsen to the position in October. However, Trump has asked Duke to stick around at the agency in a deputy role once Nielsen's nomination is confirmed by the Senate. It remains unclear if Duke will resign from DHS altogether.
Lauren Holter contributed to this report.