Did the acting Secretary of Homeland Security threaten to quit after two White House officials pressured her to change her mind on whether to extend the residency permits of tens of thousands of Hondurans living in the United States?
Or did she call White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to ask for advice on the matter and have a typical conversation with him?
The Washington Post quoted several sources “who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations” on the anti-Trump side of the story, and a group of government officials willing to put their names with their quotes on the other.
“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on a policy,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “The acting secretary took those views and advice on the path forward for TPS (temporary protected status, a form of provisional residency) and made her decision based on the law.”
In the end, Elaine Duke, acting secretary, granted a six-month extension to 86,000 Hondurans working in the U.S. on a humanitarian status that allows them to stay in the U.S. if their home country experiences natural disaster, armed conflict or other such events. She ordered the 5,300 Nicaraguans in the country under the same program to leave by January 2019.
These visas expire after six months but are typically renewed indefinitely. The designation the Hondurans and Nicaraguans are given was granted in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch devastated the two countries.
The designation ended for Nicaraguans because the State Department determined conditions in Honduras are better now than before Mitch. The country did not request the status be extended.
The White House intimated its problem with Duke was not her decision making but the speed at which she was making them. Statutory deadlines were approaching, and the White House wanted to end the program without further delay unless she uncovered anything about the Hondurans that suggested a change of course.
Duke had said she needed more time to make “an appropriately deliberative” decision on conditions in Honduras. She said former diplomats and others had talked to her about holding off, so she wanted another six months to find out the details.
The White House, according to unnamed officials, want the matter dealt with before its nominee for the permanent position, Kirstjen Nielson, faces these questions.
The Hondurans’ extension means the Temporary Protection Status debate “keeps getting kicked down the road,” Kelly told Duke, and the delay “prevents our wider strategic goal on immigration.”
The administration has made it clear it wants to end Temporary Protection Status where possible and send as many of the 400,000 in the country under that status home, if practicable. It has cut off Nicaragua and Sudan already and in May told the 59,000 Haitians in the country that the six-month extension they received would not likely be extended.
It is expected to rule soon on the 263,000 people from El Salvador in the country under this program.
This has been an unfortunate pattern in the Trump administration. From Sally Yates to Preet Bharara to John Koskinen of the IRS, officials who were appointees or were functioning in roles typically filled by appointees, chose crucial moments to express their independence from the president – usually from temporary billets.
The press plays its part – taking up the side of the beleaguered appointee being badgered by rude highers-up for not toeing the company line.
But people are policy, and presidents have a right to impose their will through their people where the law and the Constitution allow – and presidential power is near its zenith when dealing with immigration.
So regardless of what the Washington Post says, there is nothing wrong with the Trump administration pressuring its people to carry out its policies. It comes with the job.