America's Voice En Español »
How did he rise to the top of DHS despite serious questions about the legality of his appointment? What was his role in Trump’s family separation policy?
Chad Wolf is now the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), though his elevation to acting secretary is in question by Congress. He is taking over from Kevin McAleenan, who resigned in October. Wolf’s appointment as acting secretary awaited Senate confirmation but for a different job as the Acting DHS Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans. He was recently confirmed by the Senate on November 13, 2019, which the Trump administration believed allowed him to serve as the acting secretary for DHS. However, in a letter to the DHS Inspector General, the House Chairman of Homeland Security Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Acting Chairwoman of Oversight and Reform Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) are questioning the legality of the appointment of Chad Wolf, as well as the appointments of Ken Cuccinelli as Acting Deputy Secretary and Wolf’s predecessor Kevin McAleenan.
While the administration initially planned to appoint Ken Cuccinelli as acting secretary of DHS, they were unable to appoint him given that he had not served 90 days under the last Senate-confirmed DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. There were doubts about Cuccinelli’s ability to be confirmed by the Senate because, according to the Washington Post, “he ran a political action committee that challenged several GOP incumbents.”
Wolf had served as Nielsen’s Chief of Staff during her time as DHS Secretary and was therefore able to be appointed as Acting Director, leaving the position for DHS Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans open once again. On the day of his confirmation, Wolf announced that Cuccinelli would serve as the Acting Deputy for DHS.
Trump has publicly stated that he likes ‘acting’ roles, such as Wolf’s, because “it gives [him] great, great flexibility.” While Trump has received critiques on this technique, he continues to leave roles open with no designation, which fracture the structure of DHS. Many have urged Trump to fill vacancies within DHS through the Senate confirmation process. In a letter co-written by Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the Senators urge Trump to stabilize DHS positions. “The widespread use of temporary leadership — individuals who, though perhaps qualified, do not serve with imprimatur of having been confirmed by the Senate — makes it more difficult for the Department to achieve its long-term strategic objectives.”
Wolf was Chief of Staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, the previous Secretary of DHS. As Nielsen’s Chief of Staff, Wolf played a direct role in the creation of the family separation policy. He has also been a source for other key, cruel Administration policies like “Remain in Mexico”.
In addition, NBC reports, he developed and sent a list of 16 immigration policy “options” to then-Attorney General Sessions’ closest advisor for review. What came to be known as the Trump family separation policy as a result of the Trump “Zero Tolerance” policy was number one on the list.
Under the Trump family separation policy, parents of over 5,000 children were prosecuted for misdemeanor entry and their children were taken and placed under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Number four on Wolf’s immigration options list was a new policy that Wolf knew would keep minors in federal custody longer. Like the Trump family separation policy, the justification for this harm to children was a “deterrent impact,” as stated in the Wolf memo. Again, harming children to achieve a policy goal.
Wolf also developed and proposed the idea to undermine the Flores settlement agreement which protects children from prolonged detention and inhumane detention conditions. Under the new regulation idea proposed by Wolf, HHS would detain children indefinitely with their parents in facilities that have not been licensed by those with expertise in child welfare, but rather allows DHS to set the standards despite maintaining a record of harm and abuse in their detention facilities.
In his policy memo, Wolf also proposed the Remain in Mexico policy, which human rights experts, the media, and an internal DHS document, show has resulted in multiple human rights and legal violations for over over 50,000 asylum seekers who have been sent back to Mexico to await asylum in the United States.
As Chief of Staff to Nielsen, Wolf implemented and upheld family separation and failed to assume responsibility for his role harming immigrant families, stating: “My job was not to determine whether it was the right or wrong policy. My job at the time was to ensure that the Secretary had all the information that [Nielsen] needed.”
Wolf also had a heavy hand in ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of TPS holders, both as Chief of Staff to Nielsen and at the direction of top White House adviser on immigration Stephen Miller. Administration officials have said that Miller views Wolf as someone who can reliably implement his immigration agenda.