A Trump administration nominee key to implementing the president’s tough immigration agenda is still awaiting Senate confirmation despite having little trouble clearing committee.
Lee Francis Cissna, nominated to serve as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services back in April, sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 17-2 vote in mid-June.
But that doesn’t impress UnidosUS, a liberal Latino advocacy group formerly known as the National Council of La Raza, which still wants the Senate to reject the Cissna nomination.
“Mr. Cissna’s role in shaping immigration policies that hurt millions of American families, and his lack of management and oversight experience, make him eminently unqualified to lead USCIS,” said Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, the group’s deputy vice president, in a statement in June.
A former chief counsel at USCIS, Cissna is currently director of immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security and was reportedly critical of the USCIS while working for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
That would hardly mark the first time President Donald Trump had named a critic to lead a federal agency, however, as part of his effort to “drain the swamp.”
Another example is Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who previously sued the EPA while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a longtime school choice and charter school advocate.
Still, UnidosUS seized on a report by ProPublica, a liberal-leaning investigative journalism website, that said Cissna was the “ghostwriter” for many of Grassley’s memos while working for the Iowa lawmaker that were critical of President Barack Obama’s liberal immigration initiatives, such as an emergency program for Central American children and an asylum program for Mexicans.
ProPublica says the “dozens of letters” Cissna wrote for Grassley have left “many clues about how he could reverse Obama-era policies if he becomes director of [USCIS].” Hence, the opposition to his nomination by immigrant advocacy groups.
Grassley scoffs at the assertion of Cissna’s purported “lack of management and oversight experience.”
He has years of experience across both the public and private sectors—including stints in the Department of State and in leadership and management roles in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy. And of course, he served as a detailee on my immigration team.
Now, I’ve heard some concern that Francis doesn’t have enough management experience. But I’m a little confused by this. He’s held management roles at DHS for over eight years. He is truly an immigration expert, and our committee should appreciate that someone with so much experience and knowledge is taking the helm of USCIS.
Before working for DHS, Cissna worked for the State Department as a foreign service officer stationed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and in Stockholm.
A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Cissna practiced law at the international firms of Steptoe & Johnson and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. He previously practiced immigration law for the Richmond, Virginia-based firm of Kaufman & Canoles.
He did undergraduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University.
Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of DHS, deals with issues related to legal immigration, such as citizenship matters, visas, green cards, and temporary workers.
But Trump is also tackling other immigration-related issues as the administration has rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and looks to reform H-1B visas that allow employment of foreigners in certain occupations. He is also pushing a reform bill in Congress calling for a merit-based immigration system.
“Francis has a brilliant legal mind and is an undeniable expert in the intricacies of our nation’s lawful immigration system,” Grassley said in a statement in June ahead of Cissna’s Judiciary Committee approval.
The White House in July blamed Democrats for holding up numerous nominees, including Cissna. However, The Washington Times reported that Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., had previously put a hold on the nomination to press the Trump administration to speed up the granting of more H-2B visas, in a program that allows businesses to hire seasonal workers for non-farm jobs.
Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin told The Daily Signal in an email the senator has since lifted his hold.