Last November, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, a career civil servant named Elaine Duke, received a phone call from John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. He was “irritated,” a White House official said at the time. Duke had just decided to extend the deadline for a special designation, known as Temporary Protected Status (T.P.S.), that allowed some sixty thousand Hondurans who had been living legally in the United States for nearly two decades to continue renewing their papers. Duke’s decision not to cancel their status, Kelly told her, “prevents our wider strategic goal” on immigration. The White House was looking for ways to reduce legal immigration and to deport anyone without legal status.
Duke retired from D.H.S. earlier this year, and last week the new Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, a protégé of Kelly’s, cancelled T.P.S. for the Hondurans. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration had made the T.P.S. cancellation over the sustained and forceful objections of career diplomats at the State Department. Last year, according to the Post, officials from U.S. embassies as well as regional experts sent cables to Washington outlining reasons to extend T.P.S. not just for Hondurans but for other groups, including Salvadorans and Haitians. Rex Tillerson, who was then the Secretary of State, disregarded the advice, and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the President, pressured D.H.S. officials to cancel the program. Tillerson spoke with Duke by phone last fall, and told her that ending T.P.S. “was just something she had to do.” She wasn’t persuaded, and she pushed off the decision for six months, by which time Nielsen was in charge of the department.
The Hondurans are not the only group to lose the protection. Last fall, the Administration ended T.P.S. for forty-six thousand Haitians and for twenty-five hundred Nicaraguans; in January, it cancelled the status of two hundred thousand Salvadorans. Part of a 1990 immigration law, T.P.S. was created to temporarily allow refugees fleeing natural disasters and social unrest to live and work legally in the U.S. The law never specified, however, how long the protections were supposed to last. The government granted T.P.S. to Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch devastated the nation, in 1998, but, in the years that followed, poverty, government corruption, and gang activity turned the country into one of the most dangerous in the world. Sending tens of thousands of people back