WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
29 Sep 2020 | WOLA Statement

Senators Should Reject Chad Wolf as Head of Homeland Security

On Wednesday, September 30, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will vote on confirming Chad Wolf as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Wolf has served as acting secretary of the department since November 2019.

Senators should reject this nomination. Not only did Wolf help orchestrate some of the cruelest migration policies seen under the Trump administration, he is responsible for misusing federal forces against mostly peaceful protestors, he has a problematic financial conflict of interest, and he has displayed deep disdain for congressional oversight. 

Wolf pushed for family separation at the border several months ahead of its implementation in 2018, one of the most shameful human rights abuses of the Trump presidency. He expanded the cruel “Remain in Mexico” program, sending over 70,000 asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. court dates in Mexican border cities that rank among the most violent in the world. His department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border, summarily expelling nearly all asylum seekers who have arrived there seeking protection, including about 9,000 children who arrived unaccompanied. 

Additionally, under Wolf’s tenure, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) badly botched the spread of COVID-19 in its detention centers, with some 6,100 detainees testing positive for the virus in ICE’s network of mostly privately-run detention centers since March.  ICE has exacerbated this situation through inexplicable transfers of detainees and personnel, insufficient medical attention, and a stubborn refusal to release at-risk detainees with no violent criminal records.

Wolf deployed DHS forces against peaceful protesters in Portland and elsewhere, publicly defending federal agents’ excessive use of force and other practices—such as seizing protestors off of streets and dragging them into unmarked vans—that are reminiscent of Cold War-era authoritarian regimes in Latin America. When Congress demanded that Wolf provide information about these and other abuses, he responded with scorn, repeatedly refusing to appear before the House Homeland Security Committee; meanwhile, legislators’ information requests go months without responses.

Ethical and legal questions surround Wolf’s status as acting homeland security secretary. In the past year, DHS has awarded more than $6 million in contracts to a consulting firm where his wife works. In August, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Wolf’s permanence in the “acting secretary” role violates the proper order of succession for acting officials, meaning he may be occupying his post illegally.

The chaos at the Department of Homeland Security during Wolf’s tenure affects us all. The Department, after all, isn’t just borders and migrants. It’s FEMA, the Coast Guard, the TSA, and the Secret Service as well. It’s the agency responsible for dealing with international and domestic terrorism threats, and natural disasters. Chad Wolf’s abysmal human rights record, and his apparent lack of concern for accountability, make him a terrible choice to lead DHS. This nomination should not proceed.

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