- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2019

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was officially named acting director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday, putting him in charge of some of the most important behind-the-scenes immigration initiatives of the Trump administration.

Foremost among his tasks will be to speed changes to a major guest-worker program and to finalize the new “public charge” rules, which are designed to push legal immigrants to prove they can be self-sustaining without becoming dependent on public assistance.

Mr. Cuccinelli, in a statement, pronounced himself “honored” to lead the agency.

“USCIS has the extraordinary responsibility to administer and protect the integrity of our nation’s lawful immigration system,” he said. “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.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced Mr. Cuccinelli’s accession to the USCIS job in a statement Monday — though there could be some legal hurdles.

Since Mr. Cuccinelli has not been in the agency, Mr. McAleenan created a new deputy position at USCIS and placed it first in the line of succession, giving him a path to be the new director.

Democrats said that was a cheap-shot end run that might not hold up to court scrutiny.

“Once again, this president is trying to circumvent Congress and our Constitution by appointing someone as acting head of an agency who would not be confirmed by the Senate to that post and who is grossly unqualified for it,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Cuccinelli had been under consideration for a job as immigration “czar” at the White House, but instead President Trump deputed him over to Homeland Security as an adviser.

Now he lands in a specific job, taking over for Director Francis Cissna, who had fallen out of favor with the White House for not moving fast enough on what top White House advisers said were the president’s top priorities.

Democrats saw Mr. Cuccinelli’s appointment as an attempt to undermine the agency.

Mr. Cuccinelli is an anti-immigrant fringe figure that has no business leading a component that is supposed to administer our nation’s legal immigration system,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The Mississippi Democrat predicted Mr. Cuccinelli would be a force for chaos at the agency, undermining its mission.

And he said there’s no chance Mr. Cuccinelli would be confirmed to the position if nominated to it, so it makes no sense to install him as the acting director.

Mr. Thompson didn’t say which Senate Republicans he thinks would oppose Mr. Cuccinelli and thus prevent his confirmation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this year told reporters he did not want Mr. Trump to select Mr. Cuccinelli.

Mr. Cuccinelli, as head of a conservative activist organization, backed a challenger to Mr. McConnell in his 2014 election, and in 2017 Mr. Cuccinelli signed onto a letter urging Mr. McConnell to give up the leader’s post.

“America is too good for you to lead it,” Mr. Cuccinelli and fellow conservatives wrote.

Though USCIS gets less attention than the other two immigration agencies, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it is instrumental in the enforcement of immigration laws, deciding on legal immigration applications and some visitor visas.

The agency is under fire from Democrats who say that it has slow-walked legal immigration under Mr. Trump, erecting what activists have labeled an “invisible wall” to prevent migration.

Yet USCIS points to increased processing of citizenship applications and to the border crisis, which has spawned a massive surge in asylum petitions, both of which fall to the agency’s officers to adjudicate.

The White House has been demanding stricter asylum standards out of USCIS, saying it could help cut down on the flow of illegal immigrants if it took a more critical eye of the initial claims migrants make at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“One of the biggest frustrations is the fact that USCIS has not been able to change agency culture about ‘credible fear’ and asylum from the Obama years,” a White House official told reporters two months ago, predicting changes at the agency.

Those comments came as Mr. Trump had ousted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and acting ICE Director Ronald D. Vitiello, seeking a tougher direction from his leaders.

Mr. Cissna survived the initial culling, but White House officials made clear he was on the hot seat.

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