The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve President Trump’s pick to lead the immigration benefits agency, rejecting complaints from advocacy groups who had complained he was too conservative and too inexperienced to take the important bureaucratic post.
Lee Francis Cissna, the nominee for director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, cleared committee on a strong bipartisan vote, with just two Democrats voting against him, setting him up for a final confirmation vote in the whole Senate.
“He is truly an immigration expert,” said committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, who at one point had Mr. Cissna detailed to his staff to work on immigration policy issues.
Mr. Grassley also said Mr. Cissna has had long experience at the Homeland Security Department, which oversees USCIS, giving him the management credentials needed to head a massive agency.
USCIS is the lesser-known cousin to the other immigration agencies, which oversee interior and border enforcement. But the agency has immense powers over who comes to the U.S. legally, and would be at the crux of any effort to grant a broad amnesty to illegal immigrants.
The agency also administers President Obama’s 2012 temporary deportation amnesty for Dreamers, which marked its fifth year of operation Thursday.
Immigrant-rights groups said Mr. Cissna would be too much of a departure from the direction the agency took under Mr. Obama.
The New York Immigration Coalition said Mr. Cissna “has a clear anti-immigrant record that senselessly undermines the economic and social interests of this country.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, said Mr. Cissna had a role in helping shape the defense of Mr. Trump’s travel ban policies, and vowed to monitor him if he wins confirmation.