Ken Cuccinelli neither deserving nor qualified to play any role in immigration policy
On Friday, the New York Times reported that former Virginia attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli will be tapped for a role in the Trump administration. He will be put in charge of the country’s legal immigration system, as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). While it had been earlier rumored that Cuccinelli would be placed in a new job as “immigration czar,” both the Times and the Washington Post noted that he now seems set for the top spot at USCIS.
No matter what job Cuccinelli ends up in, he is neither deserving nor qualified to play any role in shaping immigration policy. He is an immigration hardliner with views that are at odds with American values. He has a history of xenophobic, homophobic, and sexist comments. Ironically, one nice thing that can be said about Cuccinelli is that he fosters bipartisanship — he has generated opposition from both sides of the aisle.
Given that Cuccinelli could soon be presiding over USCIS, his comments on immigration are worthy of review. In 2018, he told Breitbart News Daily that states should use “war powers” to turn back migrants: “You just point them back across the river and let them swim for it,” he said. In 2015, appearing on a conservative radio station, he claimed that President Obama was encouraging an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants. In 2012, he compared immigration policy to pest control. He’s called the infamous Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) “one of my very favorite congressman.” So Cuccinelli is hardly someone who can be trusted to run USCIS in keeping with the agency’s core values, which include “respect” and “integrity.”
Most importantly, Cuccinelli has no significant experience in immigration policy, notwithstanding his failed attempt to end birthright citizenship as a state senator. He is not from a border state, nor has he been a credible voice in the immigration debate. His background is in law enforcement, not immigration law.
Cuccinelli’s prime qualification for his new job seems to be that he has been a tireless defender of the president on cable news. That could almost be seen as laughable if the stakes were not so high. Consider that as head of USCIS, Cuccinelli would wield tremendous power over immigrants like refugees, domestic abuse victims, and asylum-seekers. Or that our legal immigration system is byzantine and complicated, attracting the largest number of immigrants in the world. In FY 2017, the U.S. granted Legal Permanent Resident status to about 1.1 million people, including 120,000 refugees and 25,000 asylum-seekers.
Cuccinelli’s anti-LGBTQ record is especially troubling. As attorney general, he was against policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public colleges and universities. As a state senator, he unsuccessfully fought to criminalize sodomy, calling “homosexual acts… intrinsically wrong.” In 2008, he declared that homosexuality “brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.” The extreme views matter because LGBTQ people are among our most vulnerable immigrants. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has documented “the precarious position of transgender immigrants and asylum seekers.” Sadly, it seems unlikely that Cuccinelli would respect their human rights, let alone treat LGBTQ immigrants with kindness and compassion.
There are myriad ways in which Cuccinelli has demonstrated that he is far out of the mainstream, so much so that handing him a huge job would be dangerous. The man who worried about getting his newborn son a social security number because he was concerned about the government tracking his family is probably not the ideal person to put in charge of E-Verify, the federal database that checks employment eligibility.
True, the president can choose whomever he likes for high-level positions. But Cuccinelli isn’t even a smart political pick. In addition to being unpopular with Democrats, he doesn’t have the full support of Republican lawmakers either. According to the website Vox, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not want to confirm Cuccinelli (the ill will stems from the fact that Cuccinelli headed up a political action committee that supported primary challenges to incumbent Republicans in 2014). Besides, on immigration most Americans are moving away from Trump. This January, the Pew Center found that 62 percent of Americans believe that immigrants strengthen our country. A restrictionist like Cuccinelli is not what the public wants or needs.
As head of USCIS, Cuccinelli would bring little to the job except a track record as a Trump loyalist. With his outdated and narrow views, he would be a disaster overseeing our legal immigration system.
Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.