A Senate committee on Wednesday held the first hearing for the confirmation of Chad Wolf as secretary of homeland security, a federal agency in which he serves as interim head, a promotion that has been challenged in court and by the Comptroller General’s office, and criticized by immigrant advocates.
“We have aggressively rejected foreign elements and nations that have sought to interfere with our elections,” Wolf said in his initial testimony to the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
“We have acted firmly against civil unrest and violence including violent extremists within the country, human trafficking, international organized crime, narcotics trafficking and COVID-19,” added the official, who after the expected approval in this committee will have to wait for the full Senate to give the green light to his appointment.
President Donald Trump appointed Wolf as interim Secretary of Homeland Security 10 months ago, bypassing the procedure that federal law stipulates for the appointment of officials.
The Comptroller General’s office – a non-partisan agency of the Congress – and a federal court in the District of Columbia have ruled that both his appointment and the steps he has taken since then are invalid.
The hearing also comes on the same day that it is announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded contracts of up to $6 million to a consulting firm in which Wolf’s wife works as an executive.
“After watching Wolf’s illegal management, Americans need not wait for the conclusion of today’s hearing to know that he is neither qualified nor deserving of the position,” Tom Jawetz, vice president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), said in a statement.
Among other criticisms, Jawetz said that Wolf “was responsible for the August deployment of unidentified, covert Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel to Portland, Oregon, where agents used excessive force and arrested peaceful protesters.
The House Hispanic Caucus urged the Senate to oppose Wolf’s appointment, saying his performance “shows a pattern of enforcement of some of the most disturbing immigration policies in our country’s history.
“Wolf was one of the early architects of the policy that separated more than 5,000 children from their loved ones,” added the letter from the caucus chaired by Rep. “Since Wolf’s illegal designation in November 2019, DHS “has clandestinely detained at least 660 children, some as young as one year old, in hotels for weeks.
In early September, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia challenging the legality of Wolf’s appointment as interim secretary and the validity of the restrictions the official placed on the Deferred Action for Children Act (DACA) program.
MALDEF filed the complaint on behalf of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project in New Mexico and the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, Illinois, and names Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli as defendants.
Cuccinelli also serves as interim director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which runs the program created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama that has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought into the country as minors from deportation.
Wolf issued an ordinance on July 28 that limits to one year the renewals of DACA beneficiaries’ permits and work authorizations and rejects new applications for protection. Since 2012 the program has granted an injunction against deportation and work permits valid for two years.
The challenge to Wolf and Cuccinelli’s authority in their respective roles, and therefore to all of their decisions, is based on the irregular path that led them to their positions and which, according to the plaintiffs, violates federal laws on government positions.
In April 2019, the then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, resigned from her post. According to the laws on the administration of federal agencies, the position should have been passed to then Acting Assistant Secretary Claire Grady.
“Because the wrong official assumed the title of acting secretary, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid, and officials who took office under such amendments were appointed on the basis of an invalid order of succession,” according to Comptroller General Counsel Thomas Armstrong.
Appointments to ministries and various government agencies, as well as Supreme Court and federal court judges, are made by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate. Although Republicans have a majority in that chamber, Trump has avoided confirmation proceedings by placing interim officials, of whom there are now at least 20.
The Department of Homeland Security, created after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and with the consolidation of at least 16 agencies, is responsible for, among other agencies, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), USCIS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).