Trump Nominee to Head Immigration Service (USCIS) Raises Concerns

Lee Cisnna is Pres. Trump's pick to head the Immigration Service (USCIS).

President Trump’s nominee for the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is Lee Francis Cissna. USCIS controls everything from citizenship interviews to adjusting the status of new permanent residents. Last week Cisna testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although Cissna may soon be in control of family reunification for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, much of the testimony concerned employment-based visas, which represent about 15% of all immigration..

Cissna has a close relationship with the anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Research (CIS) and in a questionnaire he filled out for his post he wrote that he volunteered a day each week for the Trump campaign during the closing months of the campaign. From 2015 until recent months he worked for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and wrote many letters and statements for the senator. According to the investigative reporting non-profit ProPublica those letters raise questions about Cissna’s ability to lead the immigration agency.

ProPublica reviewed 60 letters ghost written by Cissna and found that he routinely criticized humanitarian programs for immigrants such as:

-An emergency program for Central American children to reunite with parents in the U.S. The system “unquestionably circumvents the refugee program established by Congress,” according to a November 2015 letter.

-The system for granting asylum to people claiming persecution in their home countries. A November 2016 letter claimed thousands of immigrants were “amassing” in Mexican border cities with the intention of “asserting dubious claims of asylum, which will practically guarantee their entry.”

-Giving so-called “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — the chance to obtain travel documents on top of work permits. This program would “open the door to undocumented immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship,” a March 2016 letter said.

-A program allowing undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime to stay in the U.S. even if there are no visa slots available. A December 2016 letter said the policy is “being exploited by those wishing to defraud the system and avoid deportation.”

According to ProPublica:

The Grassley letters written during Cissna’s tenure “exhibit an overall anti-immigrant view,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell who reviewed them at ProPublica’s request. “They seem to think that immigrants are only causing harm to the United States as opposed to giving it a more nuanced view of both benefits and the potential dangers of immigration.”

Cissna’s full confirmation hearing will be held later this month.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.