The head of the union representing staffers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services warned that the changing of the guard at the agency could mean “the end of legal immigration as it currently exists.”
Saturday is the last official day on the job for Director Frank Cissna, who told employees on May 24 that “at the request of the president” he would be stepping down from the agency.
“As an immigration law and policy professional dedicated to the rule of law like so many of you, I appreciate that this opportunity to serve was a unique experience,” Cissna wrote in the agency email.
The resignation didn’t come as a surprise, as rumors had circulated since early April that President Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller wanted Cissna out. That sparked pushback from senior Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), who asked the White House to stop the Department of Homeland Security purges: Ron Vitiello was out as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 12, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Management and Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Claire Grady was forced to resign on April 10, and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down the same day.
Cissna, who served as director of immigration policy in the DHS Office of Policy, was confirmed by the Senate in October 2017. In February 2018, USCIS removed the phrase “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from its mission statement, with Cissna saying the agency shouldn’t be declaring something that “belongs chiseled in the wall of a monument.”
Grassley said in April that he spoke with people at the White House in an effort to protect Cissna’s job and told reporters he was “assured [Cissna’s] going to still be working at the Department of Homeland Security” in some respect. But Grassley also said that “the president’s gotta have people in place who will do his job, and since his goals are the same as mine I’m gonna have to accept it.”
Last week, days before Cissna announced his resignation, news broke that former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli was expected to be named to an undefined role at DHS — though not “immigration czar” — to direct administration immigration policy goals.
Since Cissna resigned, administration officials have told multiple outlets that Cuccinelli will eventually be nominated to the post by Trump.
American Federation of Government Employees president Danielle Spooner declared in a Monday statement that “it has become clear that the goal of this administration is to end immigration all together.”
Spooner said picking Cuccinelli would align with that goal as he “knows nothing about immigration, Adjustment of Status or Naturalization” and has a “sole purpose” to “destroy the agency that grants these benefits.”
“The resignation of Francis Lee Cissna as Director of USCIS and the possible appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as his successor spells the end of legal immigration as it currently exists,” the union leader said.
Trump’s purported pick may find an uphill climb to confirmation: Cuccinelli recently led the Senate Conservatives Fund, which in 2017 tried to oust Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as Senate majority leader for not being conservative enough.