The leaders of the House Oversight and Reform, Judiciary, and Homeland Security committees sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Tuesday questioning whether Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli “was appointed in a manner that circumvents the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.”
Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, was appointed to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on June 10 after the ouster of Director Frank Cissna, who told employees on May 24 that “at the request of the president” he would be stepping down from the agency.
“Our nation has the most generous legal immigration system in the world and we must zealously safeguard its promise for those who lawfully come here,” Cuccinelli said when stepping into the role. “I look forward to working with the men and women of USCIS to ensure our legal immigration system operates effectively and efficiently while deterring fraud and protecting the American people.”
Last week, Cuccinelli issued a memo stating that “USCIS officers will now be required to remind individuals at their adjustment of status interviews of their sponsors’ responsibilities under existing law and regulations,” specifically in terms of financial support. “If the sponsored immigrant receives any federal means-tested public benefits, the sponsor will be expected to reimburse the benefits-granting agency for every dollar of benefits received by the immigrant,” he said.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told McAleenan that it appears Cuccinelli was appointed to the acting role only “after Republican Senators told President Trump that the Senate would not confirm Mr. Cuccinelli as Director.”
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, they wrote, President Trump could have appointed as a temporary director “(1) the ‘first assistant’ to the Director of USCIS (currently Deputy Director Mark Koumans); (2) anyone currently holding a Senate-confirmed position in the Executive Branch; or (3) any officer or employee of USCIS who has served in a position at USCIS for at least 90 days within the 365 days preceding the vacancy.”
Koumans filled in as acting director between Cissna’s resignation and Cuccinelli’s appointment.
“It appears the Administration was aware that Mr. Cuccinelli could not be appointed Acting Director of USCIS consistent with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. After announcing his appointment as the Acting Director, the Administration claimed that it had first appointed Mr. Cuccinelli as ‘Principal Deputy Director,’ a position that has never existed in USCIS’s 16-year history,” the letter continued. “The creation of this new position appears to have had no purpose other than to facilitate the appointment of Mr. Cuccinelli over any of the individuals who were eligible under the law. This is particularly troubling given that President Trump reportedly planned to nominate Mr. Cuccinelli as Director of USCIS—which would have required Senate confirmation—but apparently changed his mind after a number of Senate Republicans ‘made clear to the White House that Cuccinelli would face serious difficulty in being confirmed.'”
The chairmen requested by July 2 “a detailed explanation of the legal basis for his appointment, as well as the documents detailed below relating to his appointment.”