Congressional Leaders Demand Watchdog Investigate Trump Administration Decision to Terminate TPS
Members question role of 2020 electoral calculations in decision to end TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, today led a group of leading Democrats in calling on the State Department’s Inspector General to immediately open an investigation into the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. Joining Menendez and Castro in requesting the IG probe were House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (NY-16), Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Chairman Albio Sires (NJ-8), and Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (CA-16).
“We specifically request that the Office of the Inspector General review the extent to which Trump Administration political appointees in the State Department introduced electoral considerations into the TPS decision-making process,” wrote the Members to Inspector General Steve Linick. The members cited a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report which uncovered evidence of Trump political appointees intentionally ignoring warnings that ending TPS for the three countries would pose a risk to U.S. national security and the safety of nearly 400,000 TPS recipients.
The November 2018 report, titled “Playing Politics with Humanitarian Protections,” included a compilation of over 80 pages of internal communications – troubling letters, memos, and embassy cables – that led President Trump to terminate the TPS designations for El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti. Among the documents were specific instances of Trump Administration political appointees in the State Department explicitly referencing the 2020 presidential elections in their recommendations to the Secretary of State.
“These political appointees’ recommendation indicates how the Trump Administration favored a predetermined political decision over the collective expertise of the State Department, disregarding the guidance provided by every other relevant office,” concluded the Members, delineating the scope of the requested investigation.
The Members’ letter can be found HERE and below.
Dear Inspector General Linick:
We are writing to reiterate the November 2019 request from Senator Menendez for you to conduct an investigation into the State Department’s role in the Trump Administration’s decisions to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras. Our request follows the release of an expansive investigation in November 2019 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), which found numerous irregularities with the State Department’s internal processes. We are deeply concerned about evidence that domestic political interests well beyond the scope of the TPS statute appear to have overridden the recommendations of senior State Department officials related to U.S. national security priorities and humanitarian interests.
We specifically request that the Office of the Inspector General review the extent to which Trump Administration political appointees in the State Department introduced electoral considerations into the TPS decision-making process, as documented in the SFRC report, “Playing Politics with Humanitarian Protections.” This report found that, in an October 26, 2017 Action Memo to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, political appointees in the Department’s Office of Policy Planning (S/P) recommended shortening the timeline for the termination of TPS status for nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras to avoid ending TPS “in the middle of the 2020 election cycle.” Mr. Brian Hook was the Director of S/P, Ms. Taryn Frideres advised S/P on refugee and migration issues, and Ms. Kimberly Breier advised S/P on the Western Hemisphere (including El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras) at the time this Action Memo was submitted. Further, Mr. Hook, Ms. Frideres, and Ms. Breier communicated numerous times on the TPS decision-making process, according to redacted emails that have been released through the Freedom of Information Act.
These political appointees’ recommendation indicates how the Trump Administration favored a predetermined political decision over the collective expertise of the State Department, disregarding the guidance provided by every other relevant office, including then-Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), and the U.S. Embassies in San Salvador, Port-au-Prince, and Tegucigalpa.
We request that your investigation address the following questions, at minimum:
- Did Secretary Tillerson approve the recommendation in S/P’s October 26, 2017 Action Memo to end TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras within 18 months in light of the 2020 election cycle?
- Did Secretary Tillerson and Trump Administration political appointees prioritize domestic political and electoral interests over U.S. national security and the safety of TPS recipients and their American citizen children (as highlighted by senior officials in the State Department and U.S. Embassies)?
- Were there additional communications between State Department political appointees or between political appointees in the State Department, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Security Council, and White House that discussed U.S. political and electoral interests in relation to the TPS decisions for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras? How did these communications influence decision-making by Department leadership?
- Did Department officials or political appointees discuss TPS in relation to 2020 election considerations with White House officials, including, but not limited to, Stephen Miller and Andrew Veprek? What communication did these officials have with outside groups?
We appreciate your close attention to this letter and emphasize the need for a swift response and prompt investigation.
Juan Pachon 202-224-4651
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