Chad Wolf was not legally serving as acting Homeland Security secretary when he signed rules limiting applications and renewals for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and those rules are now invalid, a federal judge ruled Saturday.
Wolf in July issued a memo saying that new applications for DACA, the Obama-era program that shields undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, would not be accepted and renewals would be limited to one year instead of two amid an ongoing review.
The ruling is another defeat for the Trump administration, which is now unlikely to be able to address DACA and the fate of Dreamers. The administration tried ending the program in 2017, but the US Supreme Court blocked their attempt in June. The memo invalidated on Saturday had sought to buy time while the administration decided its next steps. The President has been successful in achieving many immigration limits, but has not been able to significantly dismantle DACA, the now eight-year-old program.
Saturday’s ruling would be subject to appeal if the US government chooses to do so.
There have been previous questions over the legality of Wolf’s appointment. The Trump administration has renewed a push to get Wolf confirmed before Inauguration Day; he is currently serving in an acting capacity.
In the past week, Homeland Security officials spoke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office about bringing the nomination to a floor vote in the coming weeks – a move seemingly acknowledging both a forthcoming change in administrations and criticism that Wolf’s appointment was invalid.
Over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, DHS – the third-largest federal department – has had five secretaries, only two of whom have been confirmed by the Senate, and has run into a flurry of questions over the legitimacy and authority of those leading in acting capacities.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report in August saying Wolf’s appointment was part of an invalid order of succession.
A federal judge in Maryland also ruled that Wolf was likely serving unlawfully.
Without confirmation, Wolf’s appointment – and policies rolled out during his tenure – will continue to face questions.
McConnell spokesman Doug Andres told CNN on Thursday that there are no scheduling updates or guidance “at the moment” in regards to his confirmation.
This story has been updated.