DHS's Ken Cuccinelli Says Asylum Officers Upset by Trump's Policies Can Take Concerns to the Polls

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency and the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), dismissed the concerns of U.S. asylum officers disturbed by the government's anti-immigration policies, telling Newsweek that "that's what elections are for."

Asked by Newsweek on Friday to address concerns that have been repeatedly raised by members of the union representing USCIS workers, including asylum officers, Cuccinelli said that he understood that not all USCIS workers agreed with the Trump administration's policies.

"Some of the union representatives, it's fair to say, are totally out of line and agreement with this president and his policies and I totally see that," Cuccinelli said. "But, they have to follow the rules in place and they're professionals and, of course, we fully trust them to do that," he said.

"I can appreciate if they would personally like to see different policies in place," he suggested it was not their jobs to advise on policy," Cuccinelli said "That's what elections are for."

Cuccinelli's comments came nearly two weeks after the National CIS Council 119, which represents thousands of U.S. immigration workers, filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to the Trump administration's controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). The so-called "Remain in Mexico" program has seen tens of thousands of asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in the U.S.

"In the last three years, the Executive Branch of our government has sought to dismantle our carefully crafted system of vetting asylum claims, and with it, America's position as a global leader in refugee protection," the National CIS Council 119 (American Federation of Government Employees), said in the brief. "The MPP is part of that dismantling."

"Council 119's members are steadfast in their commitment to serving our country by continuing its proud tradition as a refuge for the persecuted while ensuring the safety and security of American citizens," the union said. "The MPP betrays this tradition and would force Council 119's members to take actions contrary to their oath to uphold our nation's immigration laws."

In a statement to Newsweek, Michael Knowles, who represents union for USCIS employees, rejected Cuccinelli's dismissal of asylum officers' concerns, asserting that it shouldn't take an election to allow workers to follow their mandate.

"We object to the Administration's asylum policies because they are unlawful and place thousands of innocent people in grave danger," Knowles said.

"We have spoken out through our Union because we are sworn to uphold the Constitution and faithfully administer the laws of the United States," he said. "We are bound by law and international treaty to protect those who have a well-founded fear of persecution in the countries they fled. We are prohibited from returning refugees to territories where their lives or freedom would be in jeopardy. It is our moral and legal obligation to speak out."

"The American people will decide the outcome when they go to the polls in November," he said. "But meanwhile, we are bearing witness to the Administration's evil actions towards those whose only 'crime' was to seek refuge in the land of the free and home of the brave," he said.

The clash comes as Cuccinelli faces scrutiny over whether he entitled to his top role at the DHS, period, with the Government Accountability Office, Congress's independent investigative arm, finding that both he and DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf were invalidly appointed to their positions and are therefore ineligible to serve in their top jobs.

The findings have been referred to the DHS.

Ken Cuccinelli
Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, testifies during a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing concerning the government response to the coronavirus, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 11, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty