Cuccinelli as Trump’s secret weapon is terrifying

And we all should be terrified


In an era of Trumpian appointments who bear little to no qualifications, such as Rick Perry (Department of Energy), Betsy Devos (Department of Private Education), and Ben Carson (Department of HUD), it is hard to register Ken Cuccinelli’s appointment as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as anything worth panicking over. But if we look at how Cuccinelli is aggressively shifting the USCIS at a pace far quicker than Trump in the last 3 years, there’s a legitimate reason to believe Cuccinelli may cause irreparable damage to the American immigration system for years to come. 

Cuccinelli, the former 46th Virginia attorney general, has now found a home in the Trump administration and is thriving for all the wrong reasons. Once known in Virginia for introducing legislation that would allow employers to fire employees for speaking Spanish in the workplace, Cuccinelli has long been a conservative firebrand when it comes to immigration. If there ever were an ideal fit to direct the Trump administration’s immigration department, it would probably be the type of person who speaks about immigration policy and killing rats in the same breath. 

Cuccinelli has a certain fervor for restricting immigration policy that most of his colleagues don’t share. One of the main problems the Trump administration has encountered when implementing their anti-immigration policies is that there aren’t enough qualified people with the will to pursue such laws. With Cuccinelli, that’s not an issue. 

Now what is a concerning issue is giving an appointed official, who has not been confirmed by Congress and who is hellbent on ending legal immigration, free reign over the department in charge of handling legal immigration. 

Since Cuccinelli was appointed, the USCIS has rattled out numerous initiatives to curb legal immigration, including speeding up asylum screenings and announcing a public charge statute that would allow immigration officials to deny legal immigrants on the basis of perceived need. 

He has also worked aggressively to expand his role within all federal sectors of immigration, butting heads with both ICE and Homeland Security over the jurisdiction of his department. Cuccinelli has been reported to have openly demanded that the director of ICE cede authority of the student visa program to the USCIS. 

While both of those ideas are absurd in practice and flagrantly illegal, Cuccinelli’s request is hardly original. However, considering the precedence set by this administration, Cuccinelli’s ideas are terrifyingly realistic. With Cuccinelli recently ousting the top asylum official in the USCIS, it’s not hard to imagine him getting some concessions in his requests. 

Showing no remorse for the standards and traditions practiced by the department–and with his drastic changes in policy being backed wholeheartedly by the Trump administration–Cuccinelli has the power and the ambition to make some of Trump’s most polarizing policies come to fruition. 

It’s time to forgo the notion that there are checks and balances in our federal bureaucracies. That idea is naive and no longer represents the standard to which our agencies are held in 2019. It’s time to accept the reality that if we relax, if we take our eyes off of what is happening in our major bureaucratic institutions, we may look back and see a country that we no longer recognize.