Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ken Cucinelli's expanding influence in Trump's immigration policy blurs USCIS-ICE functions

Politico is running a story "Cucinelli bores his way into Trump's inner circle."  The story reports that in the six weeks since President Donald Trump named him as acting head of the relatively obscure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cuccinelli has become one of the president’s top lieutenants for his aggressive immigration agenda.  

Cucinelli, who was formerly a state senator in Virginia, wanted to be considered for immigration czar (a job that doesn't currently exist) or DHS Secretary and may still be interested in a higher-level position. He has been commenting for media on many immigration policies, including the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census ("to help with the burden of illegal immigration") and the ICE raids announced to begin at the beginning of this week (they're "absolutely going to happen," then dialing back on operational details here). Politico says that "the move shows how Trump and Miller are eager to consolidate critical immigration decisions and messaging among a small group of like-minded individuals, without the vetting and oversight that would come from a more traditional bureaucratic structure." (While Cucinelli declined to be interviewed for the Politico article, a USCIS spokesperson said in a written statement that Cuccinelli was proud to be “under the leadership of both the acting secretary and the president.” Furthermore, he “is enjoying the job,” she added.)

Cucinelli media photo

Within USCIS, Cucinelli's initial actions at USCIS have moved the agency in the direction of enforcement and stirred tension with USCIS' employee union. His deputy on July 17 sent an email  to USCIS employees asking them to offer volunteer assistance to the program forcing asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated: “Current conditions are placing extreme stress on our colleagues at Immigration and Customs Enforcement ... USCIS has agreed to seek USCIS volunteers to provide ICE with support... I appreciate your willingness to consider helping our colleagues fulfill the DHS mission.” The D.C.-based local union that represents 2,500 USCIS employees came out in opposition to the remain in Mexico program in a June 25 court filing that argued that the program could require asylum officers to participate in the “widespread violation of international treaty and domestic legal obligations — something that they did not sign up to do.” Cucinelli's response to the union said the union leadership was "play[ing] games while the border crisis intensifies" and that “USCIS must continue to do our part to help stem this crisis and better secure the homeland.”


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