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Who’s in Charge? Ken Cuccinelli Occupies Two Positions

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Last month, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced through an email to his staff that he would be leaving his position at the USCIS for a position within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cuccinelli also signed off for the last time on his @USCISCuccinelli twitter account and officially switched to his brand new @HomelandKen handle.

“Dear Colleagues,” Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, wrote in an e-mail in mid-November, according to The Washington Post. “Soon, I will begin serving as the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security. During this transition, Deputy Director Mark Koumans will serve as your acting director.”

According to The Washington Post, Cuccinelli is performing both roles – he is the acting deputy secretary of DHS as well as the acting director of USCIS.

“No one knows who is in charge, even the people that work there,” Jessica Marsden, an attorney for Protect Democracy, a Washington-based legal nonprofit, told the publication. “Who is calling the shots? It’s a mystery to us.”

Project Democracy filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city of Seattle and other nonprofits challenging, among other things, the legality of Cuccinelli’s appointment and his harsh asylum laws. They also asked the court to declare that his asylum directives are unlawful, and “that Mr. Cuccinelli’s appointment as Acting USCIS Director is unlawful.”

Cuccinelli was appointed as the new USCIS interim director by the Trump administration on June 10th, after Lee Francis Cissna announced his departure from office in late May. During this time, when Trump hardened his immigration policy and announced his support for a plan drawn up by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The plan was based on a strong national security component to change immigration law, pursue undocumented immigration and establish a legal migration system based on merits.

Since then, Cuccinelli, who once compared immigration to pest control, has been the center of controversy for his restrictive asylum and overall immigration laws. He has attempted to deny green-card status to working-class immigrants, deport immigrants facing life-threatening illnesses, and make it more difficult for children of U.S. citizens who are born abroad to qualify for citizenship. He also infamously twisted Emma Lazarus’ famous words on the Statue of Liberty to defend his new ‘public charge rule’ proposal. 

Even though several organizations including Democracy Forward and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. have joined Protect Democracy in filing lawsuits against Cuccinelli and questioning the legitimacy of his appointment, The Justice Department has denied that Cuccinelli’s post violates federal law.

Cuccinelli’s position at the government is still conflicting — according to The Washington Post, USCIS’s website lists Cuccinelli as the agency’s acting director while the DHS site says that his presumed position is “‘vacant’, yet that he is filling it.” As of now, President Donald Trump has not nominated Cuccinelli for Senate confirmation at either position.

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.