The Trump administration has selected former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to helm the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency charged with processing visas and green cards, as well as citizenship, refugee and asylum applications.
Cuccinelli's hardline views on immigration, which are completely in line with the president’s, and lack of experience have raised concern among immigration activists.
“I think we’re in for a long haul over at USCIS, and this is a time when we actually need thoughtful people in positions of influence at DHS. ... I’m just not sure we have that in Ken Cuccinelli,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Though Cucinelli has no formal experience working in immigration policy, he was vocal about the issue while serving in different positions in the Virginia state government. As a state senator, Cucinelli sponsored bills that would require employees to speak English in the workplace and tried to repeal birthright citizenship. As attorney general, he supported the controversial Arizona bill SB 1070, which required any resident non-citizen to carry 18 separate identifying documents at all times under threat of arrest. Cuccinelli also joined with President Donald Trump in casting doubt on the legitimacy of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Despite being a prominent supporter of right-wing causes, several Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Thune and Sen. John Cornyn have also voiced their displeasure with Cucinelli in any leadership position, and warned that they may not vote to confirm him as director of USCIS. The reason stems from Cucinelli’s consistent antagonism of Senate Republicans, several of whom he sponsored primary attacks against through his political action committee the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Noorani believes that Cuccinelli’s appointment is part of a broader attempt by Trump to re-paint the DHS and those tasked with administering the nation’s immigration system in a harsher tone. Following the ouster of former DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, immigration policy in the White House fell under the purview of Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller, who Noorani says was most likely the main force pushing Trump to install Cuccinelli at USCIS.
“This is a Stephen Miller special here,” Noorani said. “Miller has been working behind the scenes to encourage Trump to put Cuccinelli into a position of influence within the DHS.”