Judge undercuts Trump’s latest DACA gambit, rules DHS secretary is illegally in job


A federal judge ruled Saturday that Chad Wolf is illegally serving as acting secretary at Homeland Security, and that accordingly the Trump administration’s latest attempt to reel in the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty can’t stand.

Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis’s ruling is the latest blow to President Trump, who for more than three years has been trying to unwind the deportation amnesty for illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” his predecessor began in 2012.

After the Supreme Court in June ruled that Mr. Trump cut too many corners in trying to nix the program altogether, Mr. Wolf released a new policy trying to limit DACA, blocking any new applications and limiting renewals to just a year — half the time of the old policy.

But Judge Garaufis, an Obama district court appointee in the Eastern District of New York, said since Mr. Wolf isn’t legally the secretary, he can’t issue those changes.

“The court holds that Mr. Wolf was not lawfully serving as acting secretary. of Homeland Security under the Homeland Security Act … when he issued the July 28, 2020 memorandum,” the judge wrote.

Mr. Wolf’s status has been the subject of a long-running legal saga. Judge Garaufis is the latest to weigh in, siding with the Government Accountability Office and some other courts in finding he’s not properly serving. Yet another court, however, has ruled that Mr. Wolf is secretary.

The question stems from President Trump’s difficulty in staffing the department. When he ousted then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the spring of 2019, he wanted his border chief, Kevin McAleenan, to take over as acting secretary.

But Judge Garaufis said that violated the chain of succession. And it was Mr. McAleenan who then wrote a new chain of succession that allowed Mr. Wolf to ascend to the top job last November, when Mr. McAleenan stepped down.

Homeland Security contends that Ms. Nielsen clearly designated Mr. McAleenan, and that it was a legal move under the Homeland Security Act, so he was properly serving — and could then write the new rules of succession making Mr. Wolf’s appointment also legitimate.

Besides, the person Judge Garaufis said should be serving — Peter Gaynor, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — issued a directive confirming Mr. Wolf holds the secretary’s powers. Judge Garaufis called that a “sham.”

DACA, officially known in Washington-speak as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, grants tentative legal status, work permits and some taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as juveniles, have made efforts to get an education and have kept a relatively clean rap sheet.

As of March, nearly 650,000 people were protected by the program.

Saturday’s court ruling could soon be made irrelvent as presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden has said he will reverse Mr. Trump’s attempts to rescind the program as soon as he takes office.

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