Deconstructing the administrative state: Cuccinelli Appointed Acting Head of USCIS
June 11, 2019
Steve Bannon is long gone from the Trump administration (though he may come back), however, his desire to foment the “deconstruction of the administrative state” still seems to animate decisions at the White House. On Monday, Ken Cuccinelli took over as acting head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is the agency responsible for overseeing everything from visa and asylum applications to issuing green cards and managing the process of people becoming citizens. Cuccinelli doesn’t seem to know much about this stuff.
Cuccinelli is an interesting choice. No one likes him - in either party. He probably can’t get confirmed as the permanent director. More on this below. Perhaps more importantly, he has campaigned against birthright citizenship and once compared a caravan of asylum seekers to an invasion that effectively gave states war powers, saying:
First of all, we’ve been being invaded for a long time so the border states clearly qualify here to utilize this power themselves. And what’s interesting is they don’t need anyone’s permission. And because [the states are] acting under war powers, there’s no due process. They can literally just line their National Guard up — presumably with riot gear like they would if they had a civil disturbance — and turn people back at the border. Literally, you don’t have to keep them, no catch-and-release, no nothing. You just point them back across the river and let them swim for it. Maybe you have a little courtesy shuttle and drive them over…and leave them there. The states can do that, interestingly enough, and the federal government can’t.
For a president who appointed a coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency, this appointment is par for the course. Danielle Spooner, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees union representing USCIS employees, had this to say about Cuccinelli’s appointment:
It has become clear that the goal of this Administration is to end immigration all together. How better to do that then by appointing as the leader of USCIS someone who knows nothing about immigration, Adjustment of Status or Naturalization, and whose sole purpose is to destroy the agency that grants these benefits.
Cuccinelli takes over from Lee Cissna, who was forced to resign in May under pressure from the Stephen Miller faction of hard-liners at the White House. During Cissna’s tenure USCIS began the process of closing its overseas offices. Ted Hesson, writing in Politico at the time of the announcement, noted:
While President Donald Trump frequently highlights his opposition to illegal immigration, his administration also has taken steps to make the legal immigration process more difficult. The latest move could affect everyone from members of the U.S. military applying for citizenship to foreigners seeking to join their relatives in the U.S., according to those familiar with the plan.
Cuccinelli steps in to lead an agency already under stress and with an implicit mandate under Trump to make it harder for immigrants to come to this country and/or become citizens. Cuccinelli probably cannot get confirmed. He has angered too many in the GOP leadership over the years. But Trump doesn’t care about this. Trump has said he likes “acting” heads because it gives him more flexibility. “It’s easier to make moves when they’re ‘acting,'” Trump told CBS News in February. “I like ‘acting’ because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.”
When Nielsen was pushed out in April from the Department of Homeland Security, AP summarized the situation this way.
Nielsen’s departure threw into sharp focus just how few full-time leaders are at the sprawling department of more than 240,000 people. There’s no confirmed secretary, no deputy secretary, no head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, no formal head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, no head of Customs and Border Protection once McAleenan moves over, and no head of the science and technology branch. In addition, the deputy undersecretary for management at the agency, Claire Grady, will have to be moved aside for Trump to install McAleenan as acting secretary.
This is an insane way to govern.