Immigration Agency Director Fights to Keep Job Amid Migrant Rush

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Reed Saxon
NEIL MUNRO

White House officials want to sideline the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, but director Lee Francis Cissna is fighting to keep his job as the migration wave overwhelms the U.S. border.

“Cissna is relentlessly focused on advancing President Trump’s agenda forward to the maximum extent permitted under the law and to say otherwise is false,” a USCIS official told Breitbart News. “Cissna has ushered through numerous rules, policy memoranda, and operational changes to safeguard our nation, protect U.S. workers, and improve the integrity of the immigration system.”

Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley is lobbying to keep Cissna in the job.

Grassley is a supporter of Cissna, who is a former DHS official who was sent to work in Grassley’s office for several years.

“There is no-one else who can do any better,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “If they replace Cissna, it will probably get worse.”

“This has been the most pro-American worker USCIS in history — that needs to be out there,” said a Hill source.

But Cissna’s critics — who reportedly including Stephen Miller — say he has not been able to get enough work done amid covert anti-Trump opposition from the agency’s pro-migration career officials. His failure has stymied vital rule changes that can help reduce the wave of Central American migrants, reduce the award of green cards to migrants who will rely on American aid, and also help reform work visa programs that undermine wages for many blue-collar and white-collar Americans, the sources said.

“It is accurate to say that his knowledge and adherence to the law is virtually unmatched, but … he lacks the bold leadership, assertiveness. and executive savvy to guide the administration’s biggest policy priorities in the second half of Trump’s first term,” said one source, adding that Cissna is: 

…perceived as excruciatingly skittish, timid, risk-averse, and unwilling toor unable to take bold decisive action to push policy and regulations through the bureaucratic hurdles. Frustration with the administration towards Cissna has been building for months. It was expected he would be replaced by the end of 2019, yet he’s been given additional time and chances to take the bold actions expected from the White House … In terms of key administration priorities, the amount of unfinished work is extraordinary … No other Senate-confirmed administration official would ever be given such leniency.

“The administration wants someone who can aggressively and skillfully navigate bureaucratic hurdles and red tape,” the source said.

For example, the USCIS agency has not completed the Public Charge regulation, which would reduce the number of green cards awarded to poor migrants who do not have the skills, character, or health to earn a living in the United States, and who would have to rely on welfare, food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The draft regulation was leaked in March 2018 — but it has not been completed by USCIS.

The critics also point out that Cissna has not been able to correct the percentage of migrants who pass the first “Credible Fear” tests, which allow them to be released into the United States to get jobs prior to an asylum court hearing.

The test is supposed to determine the credibility of migrants who ask for asylum from political or religious persecution. Migrants who fail the test are supposed to be sent home, while migrants who pass the test are allowed to ask a judge for asylum.

At the border, less than ten percent of migrants fail the test and can be sent home, even though many migrants openly tell border officials they are migrating in search of jobs. The failure rate was 7.3 percent in October 2017 and remained at 7.8 percent in January 2019, even though the Department of Justice tightened the rules in 2018.

The very low failure rate allowed 90 percent of economic migrants to be released into the United States to take jobs as soon as they apply for asylum.

Yet federal court data also shows that 80 percent of migrants fail to persuade the asylum judges that they have a credible fear of persecution.

In March, the poor predictive quality of the Credible Fear test allowed up to 100,000 migrants — including at least 50,000 working-age migrants — to flood into blue-collar Americans’ workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools. This flood of cheap labor causes much harm to blue-collar Americans, but it is a boon to business owners, white-collar immigration lawyers, education officials, and upper middle class Americans who benefit from cheap blue-collar labor.

“Stephen is dissatisfied with [Cissna’s] results and I am too,” said Krikorian. “But that is because trying to get the Trump agenda on immigration implemented is trench warfare, not shock and awe.”

For example, the Credible Fear test was written by Congress, so USCIS has little power to improve accurac, and the justice department’s upgraded rules have little impact, he said. The justice department’s new rules may reduce the percentage of migrants who eventually persuade judges to give them asylum, but they have little impact on the Credible Fear test conducted by the border officers, he said.

“Congress must act to help fix the persisting abuse of our asylum system by raising the statutory standard for credible fear,” a USCIS official told Breitbart News. “The extremely low bar established by Congress is being exploited by those seeking to game the system.”

Cissna is also being blocked because the USCIS agency is dominated by pro-migration civil servants, Krikorian said. The agency “is the happy face of immigration — it gives away the green cards and visas. It has been managed from the beginning to service immigrants, to give away as many green cards and visas as possible,” he said. Pre-migration and anti-enforcement advocates “have burrowed into the bureaucracy,” and are shielded by civil-service protections,” he said. 

Cissna also cannot rush regulation through the agency because Trump’s opponents will try to get judges to overrule Cissna’s work, said Krikorian.  “It will all end up in court if they don’t do it right — unless you dot your I’s and cross your Ts, you’re guaranteed to get held up by judges.”

Cissna has also faced opposition from administration officials who want to deliver more cheap labor to business groups instead of allowing wages and salaries to rise before the 2020 election. The business pressure has stymied reforms of several visa programs which suppress wages for young graduates and for blue-collar workers. 

Miller won’t be able to get a better replacement for Cissna, said Krikorian. He’s not replaceable. … We [reformers] don’t have a deep bench of people who agree with a hawkish-type perspective on immigration and also have years of DHS and Hill experience to implement it. It is a pure fantasy that they will get any better results out of USCIS.”

For example, Politico reported that officials may replace Cissna with Julie Kirchner, a former manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Kirchner is now working as an Ombudsman at USCIS.

“She is going a good job at USCIS ombudsman, but neither she nor anyone else has the depth and breadth of experience in DHS and on the Hill that is required to get anything done,” said Krikorian.

The Hill source joined in, saying, “I guarantee they will not be able to find someone to replace him – how who knows as much about the law … He’s doing the most he can within the confines of the law [but] there is a process and the process sucks.”

But Cissna is also being defended by advocates of more cheap labor migration, say Cissna’s critics.

“You know that something isn’t adding up when organizations opposed to the President’s America First pro-worker agenda defend an underachieving director they do not like,” a source told Breitbart News. 

“They know that open borders will become even more difficult with a replacement at USCIS.”

Cissna’s departure will be a boon for the cheap labor opponents of Trump’s pro-American agenda, responded Krikorian. “The winners are all going to be the bad guys – the Bushies, the Koch people… The idea that our [pro-American] people are being removed [from jobs] while the other side’s minions are all still in place is just surreal.”

“The left-wing bureaucrats at the USCIS have been allowed to stall the President’s agenda, and that’s why we have not made improvements to asylum [process], guest workers or Public Charge policy,” countered another source who prefers Cissna’s departure. “People at the top have had a lot of meetings … but [because of USCIS] have had zero success in executing those ideas.”

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