Trump’s Immigration Pick Attacked Obama Programs in Ghost-Written Senate Letters

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Lee Francis Cissna, President Trump’s nominee to head the federal agency that handles applications for visas, refugee status and citizenship, has put little on the public record in his 20 years as a lawyer, government employee, diplomat and Capitol Hill aide.

But it turns out he has left many clues about how he could reverse Obama-era policies if he becomes director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a non-enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, May 24, Cissna, 50, who has worked on immigration policy at Homeland Security for much of his career, is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing chaired by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. From 2015 until earlier this year, Cissna worked for Grassley on immigration issues, having been detailed to his staff by Homeland Security. During that time, he remained on the agency’s payroll.

While there, he drafted dozens of letters under the senator’s name to Homeland Security officials, helping Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to intensify his oversight of immigration and creating a blueprint for dismantling President Obama’s initiatives, according to a dozen current and former agency and congressional staff members.

ProPublica reviewed more than 60 of the letters sent by Grassley during the time Cissna worked in his office. Among the policies they criticized were:

  • 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.”

Many of the Obama-era humanitarian immigration programs were created through executive action and thus can be easily overturned. Trump has already issued several executive orders on immigration intended to restrict the leeway of immigration officers to admit people into the U.S. Many of the details of these policy changes, as well as how they will be carried out by the 19,000 USCIS employees, will fall to Cissna if he’s confirmed.

And Cissna would help cement Grassley’s influence at the agency. Another of the senator’s former aides was recently named to a senior position: Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, now chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy.

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 did not respond to requests for comment. Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee, said Cissna had produced “initial drafts” of some oversight letters, adding that “all of this work was subject to a review and approval process by permanent committee staff and it may not reflect Cissna’s own policy preferences.”

Foy added it was “absurd” to suggest that it’s being unfair to immigrants to perform congressional oversight aimed at preventing fraud. “How is working to ensure that sponsors of unaccompanied minors are appropriately vetted, addressing policies that allow for exploitation of foreign labor, or improving the integrity of our lawful immigration system anti-immigrant?” he asked.

*This article was published on May 23, 2017 and provides a good insight into the potential new director of USCIS. 

Read the whole article here: https://www.propublica.org/article/trumps-immigration-pick-attacked-obama-programs-in-ghost-written-senate