Ken Cuccinelli

Acting USCIS Director, Former VA Attorney General, Former Member of State Legislators for Legal Imigration (SLLI)

The acting USCIS director, Ken Cuccinelli has been an immigration hardliner since his time in the Virginia Senate over a decade ago, once going so far as to compare immigrants to pests such as rats. Tapped by Stephen Miller, following his impatience with Lee Francis Cissna over the public charge rule, Cuccinelli has continued to turn USCIS into an enforcement agency, telling The Wall Street Journal, “We are not a benefit agency, we are a vetting agency.”

  • Cuccinelli was first elected to the Virginia Senate in 2002 after winning a special election.
  • In 2007, Cuccinelli joined State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) as a founding member. SLLI was a coalition of nativist lawmakers who worked with Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) to introduce a slew of anti-immigrant model legislation during the late 2000s. Notably, SLLI promoted the attrition through enforcement campaign, or “self deportation.” This meant introducing legislation that made day to day life so hard for immigrants that they would “self-deport” to another state or ultimately back to their country of origin. Other SLLI founding members included Daryl Metcalfe, Russell Pearce and Kim Thatcher.
  • In a press release announcing his move to join SLLI, Cuccinelli stated, “We face very real security threats today. Porous borders and lax immigration enforcement have left us vulnerable not only to terrorist attacks but to increasing levels of crime in our communities. Those already accustomed to flagrantly disregarding our laws do not hesitate to traffic their deadly cocktail of drugs and gang violence into Virginia.”
  • A year later, Cuccinelli introduced a bill in an attempt to do away with birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants—another key SLLI platform.
  • Cuccinelli was elected as Attorney General of Virginia in 2009, assuming office in 2010. He quickly filed a brief supporting Arizona’s draconian SB 1070 law, authored by Russell Pearce, who, like Cuccinelli, was a founding member of SLLI.
  • In 2013, Cuccinelli was the Republican nominee for Virginia’s gubernatorial race, but lost. He was supported by the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish.
  • When Cuccinelli was tapped as acting USCIS director, FAIR issued a press release pushing for a quick confirmation with FAIR’s president Dan Stein stating, “The president has tapped a staunch supporter of the administration’s agenda who has his confidence to carry out a difficult job in the absence of action by Congress to address the root causes of the crisis.”
  • In September 2019, Cuccinelli attended FAIR’s annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event, and separately, spoke at a “Badges and Angels” press conference organized by Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson and FAIR. Congressman Andy Biggs was also a speaker.
  • Cuccinelli’s views have been repeatedly praised by Mark Krikorian, head of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies. Krikorian tweeted in May of 2019, “I’m not worried about Cuccinelli — you’re right that he’s solid. My fear is that running USCIS requires extremely granular knowledge of the immigration system & everyone w/ that knowledge, with a handful of exceptions, is on the other side.”
  • On September 26, 2019 Cuccinelli participated in CIS’s Immigration Newsmaker event, moderated by executive director Mark Krikorian. He is the fourth Trump Administration official to do so. Just one day before Cuccinelli addressed the group, House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan sent a letter to the Acting USCIS Director calling on him to cancel his scheduled appearance. Lujan wrote, “Government officials and federal agencies must combat these hateful ideologies and should not lend a public stage to extremist groups or bigoted philosophies. I call on you to rescind your plans to headline the gathering hosted by CIS.” In a separate letter to Acting DHS Director Kevin McAleenan, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar expressed concern over Cuccinelli’s decision to participate in both CIS and FAIR events.
  • During his tenure as Acting USCIS Director, Cuccinelli has worked aggressively to implement harsh Trump Administration policies, such as an expansion of public charge, which would force immigrants to choose between staying in the U.S. or having access to basic needs like health care, food, and housing, attempting to terminate medical deportation relief for immigrants who are facing life-threatening illnesses, and making it more difficult for asylum seekers to receive a favorable asylum decision by rushing their credible fear interview.
  • When asked about the tragic death of a father and child attempting to seek asylum in the United States, Cuccinelli said, “Let’s be very clear, adults are responsible for their decisions, and that father is responsible for his decision. I will not absolve an adult from his own decisions. The decisions he made, if they happened in this country, would be child neglect.”
  • When asked about the public charge rule that he implemented, barring green cards for those immigrants who use public assistance, Cuccinelli reinterpreted the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty telling NPR, “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” When asked about his comments during an interview on CNN later that day, Cuccinelli claimed that the poem described “people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies.”
  • During a 2018 radio interview with Breitbart media, known for elevating the voices of anti-immigrant figures, Cuccinelli floated the idea that states could declare war against the so-called “caravan” of asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America because, “we’ve been being invaded for a long time and so the border states clearly qualify here to utilize this power themselves.” He later said, “They can literally just line their National Guard up with, presumably with riot gear like they would if they had a civil disturbance and turn people back at the border.” Later in the interview, Cuccunelli said, “You just point them back across the river and let them swim for it.”
  • In July of 2014, Cuccinelli posted on Facebook, “The border states that are being directly invaded by illegal immigrants — Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico — may constitutionally deal with the invasion themselves, at least as it relates to attempting to stop the flow across their own borders. And there is nothing President Obama or those in Washington can do to stop any of these states, if they are determined to act.” Cuccinelli’s longer Facebook post was reprinted in the Social Contract journal founded by white nationalist John Tanton.
  • In 2013, he compared immigrants to pests, telling a local radio station, “What you may not know is that last year, in its finite wisdom, the D.C. City Council passed a new law, or a triumph of animal rights over human health, where those pest control people you suggested they bring in aren’t allowed to kill the rats. They have to relocate the rats and not only that — that’s actually not the worst part — they cannot break up the families of the rats. Now, as actual experts in pest control will tell you, if you don’t move an animal at least 25 miles, it’ll come back. And so what’s the solution to that? Well, cross a river.”
  • In May of 2018, Cuccinelli blamed the Obama Administration for President Trump’s family separation policy, telling CNN, “And the system we have — the Obama administration owns a lot of the recent ramp-up of this. They have the responsibility for it. It’s encouraging these families to come and encouraging parents to use their children as essentially a bargaining chip to get into this country.” In the same interview, Cuccinelli claimed it would be “logistically challenging,” for President Trump to sign an executive action reuniting families.
  • Cuccinelli initially appeared to be a supporter of the racist Birther conspiracy theory in 2010 before walking it back.
  • In a 2019 interview with Fox and Friends, Cuccinelli claimed that the federal government is, “the last mile in a human trafficking chain,” and that “Nancy Pelosi’s efforts are financing” the traffickers.
  • In the wake of Arizona’s “papers please” SB 1070 law Cuccinelli, while serving as Attorney General of Virginia in 2010 issued an opinion that police officers in his state could check the immigration status of any individual they stop or arrest.
  • In 2008, while in the Virginia Senate, he authored a bill that would strip employment benefits to those who were not proficient in English.
  • Following the largest ICE raid to take place during President Trump’s tenure, in Mississippi of August 2019, Cuccinelli tweeted, “Incredible work by the professionals at our sister agency @ICEgov. Employers who knowingly hire illegal workers and individuals who engage in identity theft & immigration fraud will be brought to justice in the @realDonaldTrump Administration.”
  • In August of 2019, Cuccinelli’s USCIS announced the termination of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program and the Fillipino World War II Veterans Parole Program. Cuccinelli also rejected attempts to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to vulnerable Venezuelans.