Democratic lawmakers grilled acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli over the Trump administration’s immigration policies Wednesday amid speculation that he’s being considered to become the new acting Homeland Security secretary.
In one instance, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz addressed Cuccinelli by stating that: “You and Mr. Trump don’t want anyone who looks or talks differently than Caucasian Americans to be allowed into this country.”
“That’s false,” Cuccinelli responded.
Wasserman Schultz later continued: “You want to block all immigration and make life harder for immigrants and you have demonstrated that you will pursue this heinous white supremacist ideology at all costs, even if it means making critically ill children your collateral damage in the process and this goes to a comprehensive pattern of harm at the USCIS under your leadership,” before posing a question about a separate USCIS regulation.
“After declaring that I’m not a white supremacist, as you alluded,” Cuccinelli said.
The focus of Wednesday’s House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing was the decision by USCIS to end a policy that allowed undocumented immigrants with serious medical conditions to remain in the United States while they received care. The agency has since reversed the change.
Cuccinelli maintained that he made the decision alone, but conceded he thought it was a “mistake to implement this on a retroactive basis.”
“This was an agency decision solely,” he said in response to Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who asked whether the White House was involved.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matt Albence repeatedly reminded the House panel that his agency was not involved in the process, and said he was blindsided by the move. ICE, like USCIS, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
“To continue to suggest that ICE had some role in this process is not only inaccurate, as confirmed by the information already provided to this committee, but also irresponsible,” Albence said.
In August, USCIS sent letters to family members who had requested relief from deportation, saying the agency’s field offices “no longer consider requests for deferred action,” except for certain military exceptions.
Instead, USCIS said it would defer discretion for deportation relief to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The change took ICE, which has discretion to determine who will and won’t be arrested or deported, by surprise.
Albence noted during his testimony that there were discussions about the policy over the years but the ultimate decision was made by USCIS.
Minutes before the hearing began, Cuccinelli and Albence, seated next to each other, barely interacted.
Elijah Cummings remembered
The late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee, signed two subpoenas for documents related to the temporary end of deferred action in one of his last official acts before his death this month.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, invoked Cummings in his opening statement Wednesday, saying, “We have a sacred obligation to follow through on his subpoenas to make sure we defend some of the most vulnerable people on the plane.”
Republican Rep. Chip Roy, the ranking member of the subcommittee, also nodded to Cummings, but noted the focus should be shifted to the situation along the border.
The committee has been seeking records, from both USCIS and Immigration Customs Enforcement, related to the decision to end deferred action, including emails, memoranda and guidance “discussing the rationale and transition process for the deferred action policy change.”
Raskin immediately pressed Cuccinelli on the records. Cuccinelli pushed back, saying: “We gave you, in response to one of the letters, the entire universe of what is written on this topic and it didn’t even cover one side of one page because it’s a pure process question on how USCIS handles this internally.”