According to a report, USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli sent an email to staffers Tuesday, instructing asylum officers to halt some asylum efforts during initial screenings at U.S. border entry points.
"Asylum officers, you took an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States,” Cuccinelli wrote, according to BuzzFeed News. “As a public servant your role as an asylum officer requires faithful application of the law.
“Therefore,” the email continued, “USCIS must, in full compliance with the law, make sure we are properly screening individuals who claim fear but nevertheless do not have a significant possibility of receiving a grant of asylum or another form of protection available under our nation’s laws.”
Cuccinelli reminded the officers that they are empowered to combat “frivolous claims” of asylum and should “ensure that [they] are upholding our nation’s laws by only making positive credible fear determinations in cases that have a significant possibility of success,” the report said.
The acting director’s email drew criticism, including from the head of a union representing asylum officers, who suggested that Cuccinelli was placing undue pressure on employees to reduce the number of successful asylum claims.
"To blame the workers for the outcomes, as if we are negligent, is wrong," Michael Knowles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, told CNN.
“I read this only in one way — a threat,” Ur Jaddou, a former chief counsel at USCIS, told BuzzFeed News. “A threat that asylum officers will be blamed by their new boss for the repeated failures of the Trump administration. This is an unbelievable threat and not something a director would normally ever send.”
Last week, Cuccinelli’s office issued a news release announcing that those who sponsor legal immigrants to the United States will be on the hook “for every dollar” if those immigrants end up receiving welfare funds or other public support instead of earning a living and paying taxes.
According to Cuccinelli, 50, a New Jersey native and a former state attorney general in Virginia, all federal agencies dealing with immigration issues will be working to update or initiate procedures and regulations to make sure that immigrants who are ineligible for public benefits do not receive them, in accordance with a May 23 directive from the president.
“The President has made it a priority to ensure that every individual who seeks to come to the United States is self-sufficient, temporarily or permanently,” Cuccinelli wrote. “The principle of self-sufficiency has been enshrined in our immigration laws since the 1800s, and we as an agency must ensure that immigrants who become part of this great country abide by this principle.”
Cuccinelli took over at USCIS on June 10, coming to the job with a reputation as a hardliner on immigration issues. For example, he has been an advocate for denying citizenship to American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally and for limiting in-state tuition at public universities to citizens or legal residents.
He replaced Lee Francis Cissna, who reportedly had lost President Trump’s confidence.