A federal judge in New York ruled Saturday that Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, could not suspend a program that shields from deportation people who were brought to the country illegally as children because he was not lawfully appointed.
Last July, Wolf wrote a memo launching a review of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In addition to rejecting new applications during that time, his agency would allow current participants to renew their status and work permits for only one year instead of the previous two-year periods.
However, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled Saturday that "DHS failed to follow the order of succession as it was lawfully designated. Therefore, the actions taken by purported Acting Secretaries, who were not properly in their roles according to the lawful order of succession, were taken without legal authority."
Garaufis cited a Government Accountability Office report to Congress in August that found that Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were improperly serving and ineligible to run the agency under the Vacancies Reform Act.
Karen Tumlin, an attorney who represented a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits that challenged Wolf's authority, told the Associated Press the ruling was "another win for DACA recipients and those who have been waiting years to apply for the program for the first time."
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling, the AP said.
Effort to end program
President Donald Trump tried to end the DACA program that was enacted in 2012 by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, but the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration did not follow proper procedures in shutting it down.
There are more than 650,000 people who are part of DACA. To qualify, they had to have come to the United States before their 16th birthday, been in the country continuously since mid-2007, be under age 31 in mid-2012, have no felony or significant misdemeanor convictions, pose no national security threat, and either have either a high school diploma, be enrolled in school or have a record of service in the U.S. military.
The Obama administration argued that those who qualified were people who lacked a legal immigration status through no fault of their own, in many cases knew only the United States as home and were contributing to the country.
Obama called the program a “stopgap” measure meant to protect the immigrants from deportation and urged Congress to enact fixes to what he called a “broken immigration system.”
Wolf noted in his memo that Congress has not taken any action on the issue and said there has arguably been “more than sufficient time to consider affording permanent status or immigration relief to the class of aliens covered by the policy.”
President-elect Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, said he would protect the group of immigrants nicknamed “Dreamers” and give them and other undocumented immigrants in the United States a pathway to citizenship.