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Judge rules Chad Wolf unlawfully serving as DHS secretary, blocks Trump asylum restrictions

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Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf speaks during a July press conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

A federal judge has ruled that Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is likely serving in the role unlawfully. As a result, new asylum restrictions issued by the agency on his watch have been blocked.

Maryland Judge Paula Xinis opined that former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan‘s “appointment was invalid under the agency’s applicable order of succession, and so he lacked the authority to amend the order of succession to ensure Wolf’s installation as Acting Secretary.”

Wolf is the fifth homeland security secretary President Donald Trump has named to the position.

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A coalition of 20 state attorneys general and 10 cities and counties challenged his asylum restrictions, which would have required asylum seekers to wait a year before applying for employment authorization and prevent many from obtaining that authorization at all.

“Substantially limiting approval of work authorization for bona fide asylees will inevitably affect their ability to afford the costs of seeking asylum, including hiring legal counsel,” Xinis wrote.

New York Attorney General Letitia James called the decision “welcome news for asylum seekers who were unfairly targeted by the Trump Administration.”

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President Trump announced in August that he would officially appoint Wolf to take over the role permanently. He has been the acting secretary since November 2019. McAleenan was the previous acting secretary, who took over the role when former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned.

It is unclear how fast the nomination will proceed, if at all, given the short timeframe before the 2020 presidential election.

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Under Wolf’s leadership, the Department of Homeland Security has played an active role in immigration issues and civil unrest in cities like Portland, where DHS officers were deployed despite opposition from local officials. It has also played a prominent role in the coronavirus pandemic response.

The Department of Homeland Security was founded in 2002 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a federal agency largely focused on federal preparations to deal with terrorism and additional duties that include border security, customs and emergency management.

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