August 24, 2020

Policy Summary

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent investigative branch of Congress, has recently declared Ken Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf to be  ineligible to serve in their current positions. The Department of Homeland Security has not had a properly appointed leader since the resignation of Kjiersten Nielsen in April 2019. Under the Vacancies Reform Act, Wolf and Cuccinelli – the Acting Secretary of DHS and Acting Deputy, respectively, are unlawfully serving due to an “invalid order of succession.” The Vacancies Reform Act requires that temporary government appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. Legally, according to the GAO, the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency should have succeeded Nielsen. Instead, Kevin McAleenan – at the time, head of US Customs and Border Protection – was appointed by President Trump. Once appointed, he altered the order of succession so Wolf and Cuccinelli would have a path to their current roles.

The GAO is referring the matter to DHS Inspector General for review and if further actions need to be taken, the issue will be passed on to Congress. Department of Homeland Security was quick to defend with a statement disagreeing with the GAO announcementThey states that President Trump has made clear he prefers when senior officials serve in an acting capacity because it “gives [him] great, great flexibility.” None of the three major immigration agencies (CBP, ICE, or USCIS) have a Senate-confirmed leader.


Trump’s affinity to appointing senior officials in an acting capacity exemplifies his blatant disregard for procedural dignity and heightens the culture of nepotism in the Trump Administration. Since the majority of Trump’s original fanbase has proven they are largely supportive of his anti-immigration efforts, regardless of the morality or procedures, it is unlikely the matter will be swiftly and justly prosecuted without a thorough investigation by the DHS Inspector General and pressure from Congress.

Engagement Resources

  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • Border Network for Human Rights: network to engage education, organization and participation of border communities to defend human rights and work towards a society where everyone is equal in rights and dignity.
  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • Center for Disease Control: the CDC provides updated information surrounding COVID-19 and the US responses.
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