WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Immigrants from Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador and other countries who were given protected status to live in the United States should have a path to citizenship, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told National Public Radio on Friday.
Kelly said many of those with temporary protected status, or TPS, resulting from natural disasters or conflict have lived in the United States for decades, and that Congress should act.
“We should fold all of the TPS people that have been here for a considerable period of time and find a way for them to be on a path to citizenship,” Kelly, one of President Donald Trump’s top aides, said in an interview.
The Trump administration, under U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, has moved to revoke this special status and to expel tens of thousands of protected immigrants.
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security said it would end protections for 57,000 Hondurans in January 2020, leaving them vulnerable to deportation.
Around 200,000 Salvadorans, 59,000 Haitians and 5,300 Nicaraguans will lose their status in 2019. Protections have also ended for 9,000 Nepalese immigrants and certain immigrants from Liberia.
Trump has pursued his crackdown on legal and illegal immigration since becoming president, promising to strengthen the nation’s borders and to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Critics, citing the nation’s history of immigration, say Trump’s policies are hostile to vulnerable people who work in the fast food, hospitality, child care and agriculture sectors, often for low wages.
Some U.S. lawmakers want immigration legislation before the November midterm election after previous bipartisan efforts failed. Their plan, however, is aimed at so-called “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, and border security issues.
Kelly said that while most illegal immigrants “are not bad people … they’re also not people that would easily assimilate” into modern American society.
“They’re overwhelmingly rural people,” he told NPR. “They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills.”
Questions were raised about Nielsen’s tenure after the New York Times reported that she had considered resigning after Trump criticized her at a meeting on Wednesday for what he said was her failure to secure U.S. borders.
A DHS spokesman denied the story. Fox News Channel, however, quoted Kelly as saying in an interview on Friday that he called Nielsen after the meeting urging her not to quit.