Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli started Monday as acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, putting a hardliner to the top of the agency that administers the nation’s immigration system.
The moves come as President Donald Trump and the White House tries to crack down on the dramatic increase in number of migrants crossing the southern border.
“Together we will continue to work to stem the crisis at our southwest border,” Cuccinelli said in a letter to USCIS employees. “We will also work to find long-term solutions to close asylum loopholes that encourage many to make the dangerous journey to the United States so that those who truly need humanitarian protections and meet the criteria under the law receive them.”
L. Francis Cissna was ousted last month as director in the wake of a major shakeup this spring among the leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, which included the departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Cuccinelli’s potential appointment has sparked controversy
After reports surfaced that Cuccinelli might join USCIS, the head of a union representing agency employees, said his potential appointment “spells the end of legal immigration as it currently exists.”
“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,” said union president Danielle Spooner in a statement last month.
Cuccinelli not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding the union’s statement.
He also has not been formally nominated to take over the role on a permanent basis.
Republican lawmakers have privately signaled to the White House should not nominate Cuccinelli, or else he risks having another high-profile pick forced to withdraw, CNN has learned.
People familiar with the discussions said they have made clear to the White House that Cuccinelli would face serious difficulty in being confirmed. Lawmakers have reminded officials in the West Wing that Cuccinelli, a former Virginia state attorney general, once led a political action committee that supported a primary challenge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Since Cuccinelli is serving in an acting capacity, it still leaves all three major federal immigration agencies without permanent leaders.