Despite opposition from Republicans, Democrats and immigration advocates, the Trump administration has installed immigration hard-liner Ken Cuccinelli as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia and member of the state Senate, started at his new job on Monday.
“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,” Cuccinelli said in a statement to NPR. “I look forward to working with the men and women of USCIS to ensure our legal immigration system operates effectively and efficiently while deterring fraud and protecting the American people.”
Cuccinelli’s appointment was met with swift bipartisan criticism.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, told The Hill that Cuccinelli — once a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — would have a “hard time getting confirmed” if Trump seeks to make his appointment permanent.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the outlet: “He’s made a career of attacking other Republicans and frankly attacking President Trump, so I doubt he’ll have the support to get confirmed.”
Democrats and immigration advocates have also expressed their concerns about Cuccinelli and his hard-line immigration positions.
Cuccinelli has advocated for ending birthright citizenship and once suggested that undocumented migrants should be turned away at the border, pointed “back across the river” and allowed to “swim for it.”
“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,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement to Time magazine.
Thompson added that there was “no reason” for Trump to give the top USCIS job to someone facing opposition from both sides of the aisle.
Other Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), also expressed disapproval of Cuccinelli.
“Cuccinelli’s appointment is a threat to our country’s ideals,” Harris tweeted.
Cuccinelli’s lack of immigration experience has also raised eyebrows. As head of USCIS, an agency with some 19,000 employees and contractors, Cuccinelli will now oversee legal immigration in the United States, including applications for visas, asylum and citizenship.
Trump has not indicated whether he intends to tap Cuccinelli as the permanent director of the agency ― a move that would require Senate confirmation. The president has previously admitted a preference for nominating temporary officials.
“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.”
Several agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration, are currently helmed by acting leaders.
The heads of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and the Interior are also serving in an acting capacity.