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Senate votes to confirm key Trump immigration official

The Senate cleared a key immigration pick on Thursday as debate over the issue heats up on Capitol Hill.

Senators voted 54-43 to confirm Lee Francis Cissna as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) - who are all up for reelection next year - voted for his nomination.

USCIS is the agency in charge of granting visas, residency and other permits for foreign citizens to enter, visit, live and work in the United States.

Cissna cleared the Judiciary Committee in May with only two Democratic senators voting against him.

At the time, the White House blasted Democrats for holding up a slew of nominees, including Cissna. But it was GOP Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) who further delayed Cissna's nomination by subjecting him to a "hold" - which allows one senator to effectively block a nomination from being scheduled for a vote - as he pushed the Department of Homeland Security to clear additional H-2B visas.

"Several senators, including Sen. Tillis, have concerns with DHS' timeline because it would negatively impact seasonal small businesses and American workers across the nation this summer," a spokesman for the senator told The Washington Times in July.

The visas are given to seasonal nonagricultural workers.

Immigration groups also urged the Senate to reject Cissna, arguing he would help advance President Trump's "cruel policies targeting immigrants" and that he provided "technical assistance" on Trump's immigration executive orders.

The letter, signed by more than 300 groups, also references a ProPublica report that Cissna helped draft letters while working for Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-Iowa) office "criticizing USCIS for implementing various humanitarian programs and initiatives."

They added that if senators didn't reject Cissna, they should "at the very least" hold up his nomination until Congress and the White House "implement a permanent legislative solution to address the temporary nature of DACA."

The administration announced last month that it would phase out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a plan amid competing demands from conservative House members and Democrats.

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