Lee Francis Cissna

Director of Immigration Policy, DHS, Former Director of USCIS

Former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director, Lee Francis Cissna, once a Senate Judiciary staffer for Senator Grassley, served on the Trump transition team and has associated with anti-immigrant groups like the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in the past. As USCIS Director, Cissna began using the agency for immigration enforcement purposes, a departure from its traditional role of providing processing services for immigrants and refugees. Cissna, who removed “nation of immigrants” from USCIS’ mission statement in February 2018, has participated in panel events for CIS and is said to have helped the Trump transition team to craft its first executive orders on immigration.

  • Cissna worked at law firms in his late 20s and early 30s, and became familiar with immigration policy throughout his career at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. The former USCIS Director then moved into more political terrain working with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
    • Cissna reportedly worked for Sen. Grassley from 2015 until his confirmation as USCIS Director in early 2017, helping the Senator to intensify oversight of immigration policy and laying the foundation to dismantle Obama Administration initiatives.
  • Cissna removed “nation of immigrants” from USCIS’ mission statement in February 2018, has participated in panel events for CIS, and reportedly helped the Trump transition team craft its first executive orders on immigration.
  • As USCIS Director, Cissna began using the agency for immigration enforcement purposes, a departure from its traditional role as a service and processing department responsible for adjudicating benefits and humanitarian relief. Cissna talked at length about this new strategy and their expanded issuance of notices to appear to individuals who are denied a benefit during his address at CIS’s “Immigration Newsmaker” event: “To that end the USCIS has a role in enforcement, too. We don’t just adjudicate petitions. We don’t just adjudicate benefit applications or requests. If someone is not eligible for a benefit and they appear before us and they’re denied and they have no status, they should receive a notice to appear.”
  • On August 15, 2018 Cissna addressed CIS at their “Immigration Newsmaker” event, where he talked about his long-planned upcoming public charge rule, and his decision to change the agency’s mission statement saying that USCIS serves “the people. We serve the American people,” (not the) “people that we interact with every day when we take applications or petitions.”
    • Cissna attended a previous CIS event in 2015 while working for Senator Chuck Grassley in 2015.
  • In an op-ed entitled “Break the chain and lose the lottery — America deserves a better immigration system” the then-USCIS Director called on Congress to end the Diversity Visa Lottery and “chain-migration,” saying: “We need to end extended family chain-migration that favors low-skilled or no-skilled immigrants.”
  • During Cissna’s confirmation hearing he refused to answer questions for the record from Senator Hirono on whether it was appropriate for former FAIR Executive Director Julie Kirchner to serve as the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman.
  • As the head of USCIS, Cissna implemented a denaturalization task force, issued denials to immigration applications without requesting additional information, began automatically initiating deportation proceedings if an application for an immigration benefit was denied, attempted to rescind work authorization for spouses of high-skilled workers, and planned a roll out of the “public charge” rule that would harm immigrant families by forcing them to make a choice between meeting their basic needs for health care, food and shelter, or a permanent future in the United States.
  • During Cissna’s confirmation hearing he refused to confirm or deny several questions surrounding his work on the Trump Transition team in drafting executive orders on immigration. One of these orders was rumoured to be the repeal of DACA.
  • In a June, 2018 USCIS press release, Cissna stated, “There are legitimate concerns over a portion of the population who have requested, and been granted, the privilege of a temporary stay of their removal under the illegal DACA policy. Until it can be repealed, this criminality data only reinforces the need for its continued review and scrutiny, which was imposed unilaterally by the Obama administration in circumventing Congress. It’s our hope that it helps the public and policy makers better understand the reality of the entire DACA population.”
  • Documents made public as part of ongoing litigation on the Trump Administration’s decision to end TPS for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, demonstrated an effort by Administration officials including Cissna, DOJ Senior Advisor Gene Hamilton, and USCIS Senior Advisor Robert Law to rewrite TPS recommendation memos in order to terminate the program for many.
  • In 2017, then-USCIS Director Cissna criticized the agency’s weak justification of its recommendation of an end to TPS for Sudan, writing, “This memo reads like one person who strongly supports extending TPS for Sudan wrote everything up to the recommendation section, and then someone who opposes extension snuck up behind the first guy, clubbed him over the head, pushed his senseless body out of the way, and finished the memo. Am I missing something?”
  • In a 2017 memo advocating for the termination of TPS for Haiti, Cissna wrote, “Haiti has made significant progress in recovering from the 2010 earthquake, and no longer continues to meet the conditions for designation.”