Scoop: New DHS head tries end-around to shore up immigration rules
The Trump administration is trying to cement immigration changes that face legal challenges by reissuing them through a new acting Homeland Security secretary imbued with authority courts have said his predecessors lacked.
Why it matters: Visa fee hikes, suspending the DACA program and other moves have been blocked because of a dispute over DHS's internal succession rules. While Trump is now trying a backdoor maneuver to protect some immigration actions, Joe Biden will have other ways to undo them.
The backstory: Multiple federal judges have found that former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was likely unlawfully appointed, causing agency policies pushed through during his watch to be invalidated.
- The same applied to his predecessor, Kevin McAleenan. The Government Accountability Office and courts found he improperly became acting secretary following Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation in April 2019.
- The rules that guide how DHS vacancies are supposed to be filled suggest the new acting secretary, Pete Gaynor, is now a legitimate appointee.
- He served most recently as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The end-around: Gaynor issued a memo Wednesday empowering Wolf, who remains DHS undersecretary for strategy, policy, and plans, to sign and ratify agency regulations.
- Wolf then issued a memo ratifying rules published while he was acting secretary, as well as several immigration rules issued under McAleenan.
In a letter announcing his resignation, Wolf wrote "this action is warranted by recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as acting secretary."
- That passage set off alarm bells with watchdog groups.
- Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, asked in a tweet whether "Gaynor is going to come in and ratify all of Wolf's prior actions."
- Courts have blocked fee hikes as well as wide-ranging, harsh restrictions on asylum, citing Wolf's likely invalid succession.
Flashback: In November, a federal judge said the outgoing administration's latest suspension of the so-called Dreamers program was invalid for the same reason.