U.S. embassy cables warned against expelling 300,000 immigrants. Trump officials did it anyway.
In the past six months, the Trump administration has moved to expel more than 300,000 Central Americans and Haitians living and working legally in the United States, disregarding senior U.S. diplomats who warned that mass deportations could destabilize the region and trigger a new surge of illegal immigration.
The warnings were transmitted to top State Department officials last year in a series of embassy cables now at the center of an investigation by Senate Democrats, whose findings were recently referred to the Government Accountability Office. The Washington Post obtained a copy of their report.
The cables’ contents, which have not been previously disclosed, reveal career diplomats’ strong opposition to terminating the immigrants’ provisional residency, known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and the possible deportation of hundreds of thousands of people to some of the poorest and most violent places in the Americas.
Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dismissed the advice and joined other Trump officials in pressuring leaders at the Department of Homeland Security to strip the immigrants of their protections, according to current and former administration officials whose accounts were consistent with Senate Democrats’ findings.
On Friday DHS canceled the provisional residency of 57,000 Hondurans whose numbers add to the 195,000 Salvadorans and 46,000 Haitians previously given 18 months to leave the country or face deportation. TPS recipients from those three countries are the mothers and fathers of an estimated 273,000 U.S.-born children who will have to leave or separate from their parents.
The phased expulsions are a central part of the Trump administration’s effort to raise physical and legal walls around the U.S. immigration system. Together with Trump’s move to end protections for 690,000 “dreamers” brought to the United States illegally as children, his administration has stamped an expiration date on the residency of more than 1 million immigrants.
In Congress, several proposed bills that would legalize “dreamers” also have included provisions for allowing TPS recipients to remain in the United States, but those negotiations have stalled.
Democratic staff members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had, for several months, sought from the State Department information about its decision-making process. They were allowed to review the diplomatic cables in January. Their report, staffers say, shows the extent to which Tillerson and other Trump officials undermined the State Department’s regional experts to advance the White House’s immigration objectives.
Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, wants Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, to review whether the administration’s decisions can be reversed. “It would be woefully irresponsible for Congress to turn a blind eye to these discoveries,” he told The Post in a statement.
In a letter to the Government Accountability Office seeking a separate independent investigation, Menendez expressed suspicion that Tillerson’s recommendation to terminate the TPS programs was made in “deliberate disregard” of the advice provided from State Deparatment officials. The senator said investigators also have evidence the White House’s domestic policy office “sought to repeatedly influence” the TPS process and ensure a predetermined outcome.
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