A federal judge in New York City on Saturday said Chad Wolf has not been acting lawfully as the chief of Homeland Security and that, as such, his suspension of protections for a class of migrants brought to the United States illegally as children is invalid.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration wrongly tried to shut down protections under the Obama-era legislation known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. On July 28, Wolf nonetheless suspended DACA pending review.
Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis said court conferences would be held to work out details of his ruling.
He concluded, "Wolf was not lawfully serving as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security under the HSA [Homeland Security Act] when he issued the Wolf Memorandum" that suspended DACA.
Karen Tumlin, a lawyer in the case and director of the Los Angeles-based Justice Action Center, said the ruling means, "the effort in the Wolf memo to gut the DACA program is overturned."
She said the ruling applies to more than a million people, including more recent applicants and those seeking two-year renewals for protection under DACA.
"This is really a hopeful day for a lot of young people across the country," Tumlin said.
Although President Donald Trump formally nominated Wolf for the job in summer, Wolf has yet to get a full vote in the Senate, keeping his role as "acting." Garaufis cited the Government Accountability Office, which wrote in a report to Congress in August that Wolf was the beneficiary of an "invalid order of succession."
The judge described an illegitimate shuffling of leadership chairs at the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for immigration enforcement, for the predicament of Wolf's leadership and that of his predecessor, Kevin McAleenan.
"Based on the plain text of the operative order of succession," Garaufis wrote in the Saturday ruling, "neither Mr. McAleenan nor, in turn, Mr. Wolf, possessed statutory authority to serve as Acting Secretary. Therefore the Wolf Memorandum was not an exercise of legal authority."
The ruling is part of an ongoing case with DACA recipient Martín Jonathan Batalla Vidal serving as the lead plaintiff in a six-plaintiff case against Wolf and the Department of Homeland Security. The suit initially challenged the state of Texas' attempt to thwart DACA.
On Saturday the National Immigration Law Center responded to the ruling on Twitter: "VICTORY!"