As Puerto Rico suffered from devastating hurricane damage in 2017, President Trump suggested “divesting” or “selling” the U.S. territory, former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told The New York Times.
Duke said the idea of selling Puerto Rico was not pursued after Trump raised it, and that his reaction underscored that “the president’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman” in the wake of the disaster.
Duke, who served in the acting role leading DHS from July 2017 to December 2017, overlapping with her role as deputy secretary from April 2017 to April 2018, now works as a consultant at Deloitte. She served as under secretary for management at DHS from June 2007 to April 2010, and owned a consulting firm for several years before returning to DHS. After leaving the department, with nearly three decades of federal government service, she also joined the editorial board at HSToday.
In the wide-ranging interview with NYT, Duke described the administration as pursuing an “America Only” policy, and said she was excluded from the decision-making process behind the memo she signed to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She said “hate-filled, angry and divisive” language, such as “words we heard like the president allegedly saying ‘Haiti is a shithole,'” distracted from issues that need solutions.
“I think that we have the room to help people,” she said. “And one of the ways we have the room to help people is through our immigration system.”
The Supreme Court found in a ruling issued last month that DHS did not go about trying to rescind DACA in the right way. Chief Justice John Roberts, referencing the Duke memo in the majority ruling, wrote that DHS “was required to assess whether there were reliance interests, determine whether they were significant, and weigh any such interests against competing policy concerns,” and failure to do so “was arbitrary and capricious in violation” of the Administrative Procedures Act.
Duke, a lifelong Republican, told NYT that she doesn’t believe DACA is legal but did not cite policy reasons for halting the program in the memo cited by the high court because she did not agree with White House senior advisor Stephen Miller and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on their characterization that DACA encouraged illegal immigration.
“What was missing for me is really that process of discussing it,” she said. “It is a grave decision not only from a legal standpoint but from the effect it will have on not just 700,000 people but 700,000 people plus their families.”
On help for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Duke said that former Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney panned her argument for an emergency declaration before the storm’s landfall. “Quit being so emotional, Elaine, it’s not about the people; it’s about the money,” she said Mulvaney told her. Mulvaney denied making the remark, and told NYT, “My experience with the acting director was that she rarely got anything right at DHS. At least she’s consistent.”
Of the president’s cabinet, Duke said, “There is a singular view that strength is mean, that any kind of ability to collaborate or not be angry is a weakness.”