Donald Trump's acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has lead the effort to crack down on legal immigration.
Donald Trump reportedly wants to make Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general and his current acting immigration czar, his new Homeland Security secretary.
Though his own administration has determined Cuccinelli is ineligible to be acting secretary and even the GOP-controlled Senate has made it clear they would not confirm him, Trump is apparently scheming to circumvent the law and Congress.
The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (Vacancies Act) limits who Trump can install as an acting secretary to people directly in the line of succession, people who have been confirmed to lower positions by the Senate, and people who served at least 90 days under the previous secretary.
Cuccinelli checks none of those boxes. So, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump White House is "considering a plan allowing the administration to change the line of succession at the department to bypass the vacancies statute," and has asked the Justice Department's blessing for such a maneuver.
The plan would require McAleenan to put the assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction at the top of the succession chart. Trump could then move Cuccinelli into that recently vacated position and elevate him to acting secretary to replace McAleenan.
Cuccinelli alienated several Senate Republicans by running a right-wing political group that backed even more conservative primary challengers to already very conservative incumbents (including one Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). But that did not stop Trump from bringing him into the administration.
Since joining, he has attempted to take away automatic citizenship for the children of American servicemembers and federal employees born abroad, pushed to make it harder for refugees to seek asylum, and worked to stop letting poorer legal immigrants receive green cards.
Last month, Cuccinelli spoke to the Center for Immigration Studies, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-immigrant hate group, and said that Trump was "doing a lot of good things right now in the immigration space," before highlighting the administration's efforts to stop immigrants from remaining in the United States while their cases are pending.
The senior Republican member of the U.S. Senate, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, told Politico on Wednesday that he did not believe Cuccinelli could legally be appointed to the position without confirmation. "There’s some opposition to Senate confirmation. I have not heard anything about some go-around," he said. "But it’s my understanding that the existing law would not permit him to [lead DHS]. I don’t know how you get around that. I don’t think it’s possible because of what the law says, not because of anything else."
The chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), also denounced what he called the "convoluted White House scheme" to install Cuccinelli. "If the White House cannot find anyone qualified and suitable to run the Department of Homeland Security — or even run it in an acting capacity — something is very wrong with this Administration," he said.
Thompson called Cuccinelli "an anti-immigrant fringe figure who has no business being in government in any capacity, much less as a Department head overseeing 240,000 employees working to keep the country safe."
"There is a reason he has been rejected by Republicans and Democrats alike and has no chance of Senate confirmation," he added.
Cuccinelli, a former "never Trumper" turned full-throated supporter, was appointed by Trump to lead his anti-immigrant efforts back in May. Best known for his anti-LGBTQ extremism, his aggressive climate denial, and his record of losing virtually every major case as Virginia's attorney general, Cuccinelli also has a strongly anti-immigrant record that includes comparing immigrants to rats and pushing to end birthright citizenship.
The Trump administration recently put a total moratorium on refugee admissions and accepted zero refugees in October.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.