Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli told Congress that he acted alone in implementing a policy — later reversed — that would have subjected to deportation undocumented immigrants receiving care in the U.S. for serious medical conditions.
USCIS stopped processing requests for deferred action based on medical circumstances on Aug. 7, and families in the country for the purpose of receiving critical medical care subsequently received notices that the deferrals were being scrapped.
In mid-September, amid outcry over the move, the Department of Homeland Security sent a notice to the House Oversight and Reform Committee: “We wanted to let you know that, at the direction of Acting Secretary McAleenan, USCIS is resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, except as otherwise required by an applicable statute, regulation, or court order.”
The panel’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties brought in Cuccinelli and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Matthew Albence for a Wednesday hearing, at which Albence told lawmakers that there had been “some discussions” at ICE about the medical deferments but the ultimate decision was made by USCIS.
Cuccinelli said he thought it was a “mistake to implement this on a retroactive basis.” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) pressed the acting director on whether White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller had a hand in the policy change.
“I’m not going to get in specific commentary back and forth but I made this decision,” Cuccinelli replied.
“I’m asking you to answer yes or no: Was the president involved in this decision?” Pressley asked.
“We cannot, as you well know, talk about content of discussions with the White House,” Cuccinelli said, later adding, “I made the decision alone.”
Asked if he stood by the decision, Cuccinelli responded, “That decision has been reversed.”
Rep. William “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.) pressed the acting director on whether he cared about the “truly heartbreaking” stories of children needing intensive medical care. “You bet I care,” said Cuccinelli. “If you cared enough to pass a law, we’d enforce it.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told Cuccinelli, “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 interjected. “That’s defamatory.”
“Excuse me, there’s nothing defamatory about it,” Wasserman Schultz responded. “…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 comprehensive pattern of harm at USCIS under your leadership.”
The congresswoman proceeded to cite as an example the August public charge rule that could make inadmissible immigrants who utilize social services such as food stamps or Medicaid. She asked Cuccinelli whether USCIS studied how many children would be adversely affected by the rule.
“After declaring that I’m not a white supremacist, as you alluded, nor is the president,” Cuccinelli replied.
“Facts matter” Wasserman Schultz responded.
“Yes, they do,” answered Cuccinelli. “Truth matters.”
On the public charge question, the USCIS acting director told the congresswoman he didn’t have the information at hand. “We came to talk about deferred action today,” Cuccinelli said, adding of the public charge regulation, “That rule’s a thousand pages long.”