Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joined U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Monday as acting director, according to an announcement by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The appointment places an immigration hard-liner atop the agency charged with facilitating the country’s legal immigration system. The move follows the departure of Francis Cissna, the Senate-confirmed former director who was swept out last month as part of a broader reboot at the Homeland Security Department.
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“Our nation has the most generous legal immigration system in the world and we must zealously safeguard its promise for those who lawfully come here,” Cuccinelli said in a written statement. “I look forward to working with the men and women of USCIS to ensure our legal immigration system operates effectively and efficiently while deterring fraud and protecting the American people.”
USCIS said in the announcement Monday that Cuccinelli would become acting director, but did not delve into the mechanics of his appointment. The Trump administration explored the possibility of creating a high-level position for Cuccinelli that would allow him to run the agency without dismissing USCIS deputy Mark Koumans, according to one current and one former DHS official familiar with the plan.
The White House has not formally nominated Cuccinelli to become director.
As a Virginia state lawmaker, Cuccinelli backed changes to the Constitution to restrict birthright citizenship and sought to deny unemployment benefits to workers who didn’t speak English. He issued a legal opinion as state attorney general that authorized law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone stopped by police officers.
Cuccinelli would face a hard road to confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate, where he’s cultivated enemies by backing primary challenges against prominent GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Immigration advocates railed Monday at news of Cuccinelli’s appointment as acting director, which was first reported by POLITICO earlier this morning.
“I think it’s incredibly inappropriate to put someone in an acting position when they should be going through Senate scrutiny and the legally required confirmation process,” said Kerri Talbot, a director with the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Hub.