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Few who have led the Department of Homeland Security have proven hard-line enough for President Trump and his team on immigration policy. But that could change with Chad Wolf.
The White House is leaning toward tapping Wolf, who currently oversees the DHS' policy department, to be its next chief, two sources at DHS told VICE News. He was an early supporter of the administration’s family separation strategy and has worked at the agency almost as long as Trump has been in office.
But it’s unclear if the White House has officially told Wolf that he’s being nominated for the job.
Homeland Security officials are scrambling to react to the string of media reports about Trump’s plans to nominate Wolf, according to one source. Some even found out through those reports.
Spokespeople for DHS and the White House did not immediately respond to VICE News’ requests for comment.
DHS has cycled through four chiefs in less than three years, and each of its leaders found themselves at odds with Trump and his aides. Wolf would become the agency’s fifth director and take over from Kevin McAleenan, who oversaw DHS on a temporary basis for only about six months.
The departures have come at a sensitive time, as the Trump administration continues to build miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and upends DHS’s asylum-seeking process.
And McAleenan’s slow-roll out the door has added to the confusion at the agency, according to sources. On Oct. 11, Trump announced on Twitter that McAleenan would be leaving the agency, but he’s continued to serve for the last three weeks since that announcement.
Wolf, who joined the agency in January 2017, has worked for a number of departments. In addition to holding a post at the Transportation Security Administration, he also served as chief of staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who departed in April after a series of disagreements with the Trump administration, including launching mass arrests of immigrant families.
While it seems that no DHS chief has been hawkish enough for President Trump’s taste, Wolf — who once worked as a lobbyist promoting employment visas — has proven himself an ally of Trump on several key issues.
Wolf’s past proposals
In December 2017, Wolf suggested to the office of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that “separat[ing] family units” could help stop the flow of undocumented immigrants to the U.S., NBC News reported last month.
"Announce that DHS is considering separating family units, placing the adults in detention and placing minors under the age of 18 in the custody of [Health and Human Services] as unaccompanied alien children," Wolf reportedly wrote in the email.
That proposal was just one of 16 that Wolf sent to the office, per NBC. The White House has since announced another of Wolf’s proposals: requiring immigrants seeking asylum to apply in Mexico, instead of obtaining shelter in the U.S.
But among immigration officials, Wolf is considered more palatable than the two other men Trump considered for the job, sources at DHS told VICE News.
Trump reportedly wanted to tap either Ken Cuccinelli, the acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, for the post. Even by the Trump administration’s standards, Cuccinelli and Morgan are considered among the most politically extreme.
But Wolf faces the same problems Cuccinelli and Morgan do: Neither has been confirmed by the Senate for his current position. And succession rules for federal agencies prevent unconfirmed nominees from ascending to an acting director position.
The Senate would have to confirm Wolf in his current role as the Acting Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Policy, and Plans before Trump could nominate him to lead the agency.
The president never even nominated Wolf’s predecessor, McAleenan, for Senate confirmation.
In a surprisingly candid interview earlier this month, McAleenan also told the Washington Post that he was uncomfortable with the fact that Trump often wielded DHS — ostensibly a neutral law enforcement agency — as a partisan tool to promote his own immigration policy.
“What I don’t have control over is the tone, the message, the public face and approach of the department in an increasingly polarized time,” McAleenan told the Post. “That’s uncomfortable, as the accountable, senior figure.”
Cover image: Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Chad Wolf speaks during a meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF), in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)