BuzzFeed News: New USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli Sent an Email Pressuring Officials to Prevent Immigrants from Obtaining Asylum

Recently, President Donald Trump appointed Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican politician from Virginia and an opponent of immigration rights, as the Acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In his first few days in the position, Acting Director Cuccinelli is already carrying out the Trump Administration’s agenda — attempting to make it more difficult for refugees to apply for asylum in the United States.

According to reporting from BuzzFeed News, almost immediately after taking the position, Acting Director Cuccinelli sent an email to staff members stating that USCIS officers should make a determination that asylum applicants possess a “credible fear” only in cases “that have a significant possibility of success.” This is not simply a reaffirmation of the law —  it is a clear attempt to stop people from getting asylum by unilaterally narrowing the standards used by the agency. 

Former USCIS Chief Counsel: Cuccinelli is Making a “Threat”

It is important to understand the implications of what Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli is attempting to do by sending this email to USCIS staff members. Though the language may seem ordinary, the intent is very obvious to people who have experience working within the agency. 

The story from BuzzFeed News quotes Ur Jaddou, who is a former chief counsel at USCIS. She calls Acting Director Cuccinelli’s message an “unbelievable threat” and states that it is the type of message that a director would “never normally send.” 

There is little doubt as to what Acting Director Cuccinelli is attempting to do — he is trying to alter internal procedures to make it more difficult for people fleeing violence to get asylum in the United States. The Trump Administration wants USCIS officers to screen people out of the process as quickly as possible. 

Acting Director Cuccinelli Misunderstands Federal Law

The standards that Acting Director Cuccinelli touts in his email message are simply not correct. When someone makes a request for asylum — which is their lawful right under the American immigration system — it is the role of USCIS to conduct an initial assessment. Congress intentionally created a low bar in this stage of the asylum claims process. Officers are instructed to determine if it is possible that a migrant faces a ‘credible threat’ if they are returned to their country of origin. USCIS agents should not be filtering out any person who may have a valid asylum claim. By attempting to create a more burdensome and narrow process, Acting Director Cuccinelli is trying to encourage individual officers to act against federal law.  

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At the Goldstein Immigration Lawyers, our legal team is committed to providing high quality, exceptional legal representation to immigrants. We handle all types of immigration cases, including representing people who are requesting asylum. To set up a completely confidential consultation, please contact our attorney today. From our location in Los Angeles, we serve clients in Southern California.