On Sunday, March 1, US district judge Randolph Moss ruled that Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, had been unlawfully appointed to his position.
In June 2019, President Donald Trump named Cuccinelli to the position after the former head of the agency stepped down.
The judge also ruled against a policy Cuccinelli had put in place that limited the amount of time asylum seekers had to prepare for their screening interviews.
Even before Cuccinelli’s appointment to the agency, the Trump administration had enacted numerous policies aimed at limiting both illegal and legal immigration to the US.
The judge’s ruling on Cuccinelli
Sunday’s ruling by Judge Moss related to Cuccinelli’s June appointment as acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In May 2019, President Trump demanded that Lee Francis Cissna, Cuccinelli’s predecessor, resign, which left a vacancy.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services oversees green cards, visas and asylum seekers, and is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The judge stated that Cuccinelli’s appointment was in violation of the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act. At the time of his appointment, at least one Republican senator indicated he would not vote to confirm Cuccinelli to the position. Trump bypassed the process by naming Cuccinelli the “principal deputy director,” a new position at the agency.
Allowing the appointment to stand, Moss warned, would relieve the president “of responsibility and accountability for selecting acting officials,” expanding the eligibility of who could serve as an acting director of any agency.
The Trump administration is appealing the judge’s ruling.
The 1998 act establishes rules for how a vacancy can be filled by the president. It also sets the length of a temporarily filled vacancy at 150 days.
A limit on asylum seekers
Moss also struck down a directive that limited the time asylum seekers to the US have to prepare for a screening interview. Previously, asylum seekers had up to 48 hours (for individuals) or 72 hours (for families) to consult a lawyer. Cuccinelli’s directive limited the time to 24 hours.
The ruling by the judge was a victory for five Honduran asylum seekers who had sued the US government.
However, other new rules on asylum seekers remain in place. For instance, immigrants who arrive at the US border to seek asylum can be transported to other “safe countries” where they must apply for asylum.
Who is Ken Cuccinelli?
Cuccinelli has long been a conservative hardliner on immigration, as well as other political issues.
Prior to his appointment to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cuccinelli was the former attorney general for the state of Virginia, a state where he also ran, unsuccessfully, for governor in 2013.
Cuccinelli is known for his anti-LGBT and pro-gun stances, as well as his denial of climate change and opposition to abortion. He has also been an outspoken proponent of stricter immigration rules.
During his 2013 run for governor, Cuccinelli removed some of his strongest immigration views from his campaign website after it became apparent he was lagging behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the eventual winner. The stances that were scrubbed from his site included stricter background checks on workers’ legal status and permitting authorities to search homes for suspected illegal immigrants.
In an August 2019 interview on CNN, Cuccinelli said “The New Colossus” poem, which appears on the Statue of Liberty, referred to “people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies.”
The poem by Emma Lazarus includes the famous line, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The Trump administration’s immigration policies
Before Cuccinelli’s appointment, Trump had worked to make stricter immigration policies a centerpiece of both his 2016 campaign and his presidency.
The administration, among other policies, has attempted to ban nationals from eight majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States and has tried to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which began under President Barack Obama.
Both actions were challenged and blocked in the courts.
However, an updated version of the so-called “Muslim Ban” was allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.
While Cuccinelli is currently the face of the immigration agency, according to a recent New Yorker article, these stricter immigration policies are mostly the creation of Stephen Miller who is described as being obsessed “with restricting immigration and punishing immigrants.”