Cuccinelli email to asylum officers sparks anger, push back

Cuccinelli email to asylum officers sparks anger, push back
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Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli started as acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, putting a hardliner to the top of the agency that administers the nation's immigration system.

New acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has sent an email to asylum officers that is being met with consternation and criticism.

In the email, according to a source who received it, Cuccinelli appeared to press officers interviewing asylum seekers to be skeptical of claims of credible fear of returning home, saying that legally USCIS must conduct interviews but noting that many of the claims are “frivolous.”

Cuccinelli called the US immigration system “abused,” and noted that many more individuals are determined by USCIS officers to meet the credible fear standard, but are not later granted asylum by an immigration judge. He suggested to asylum officers that they only determine an individual has credible fear if they are likely to be granted asylum.

USCIS declined to comment to CNN on the email, which was first reported by BuzzFeed.

Michael Knowles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, expressed anger at Cuccinelli’s message.

Cuccinelli “seems to be blaming the workforce for high referral rate,” Knowles said, speaking on behalf of asylum officers in the National Capital Region.

“That’s the way the law is designed,” he said. “It’s intended to be an expeditious process,” so people have due process and those who are granted asylum are granted so by a judge and those who are not are supposed to be removed.

“To blame the workers for the outcomes, as if we are negligent, is wrong,” Knowles said.

He defended USCIS staffers, saying they have “extremely high-quality control standards, very rigorous procedures.” And if any abuse or fraud is found, Knowles said they “cooperate with our law enforcement partners to crack down.”

“We need more recognition for what we do and do well,” as well as “more resources” — asylum officers and immigration judges, Knowles said.

Danielle Spooner — the president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, which represents around 13,000 USCIS employees nationwide — defended the asylum officers at the agency, telling CNN in a statement that she was outraged by Cuccinelli’s email.

“To thrust blame for the influx and backlog of Asylum seekers on our hard working Asylum Officers who proudly serve their country in adjudicating asylum claims is despicable,” Spooner said.

The council “stands behind each and every Asylum Officer tasked with performing credible fear interviews and we applaud their hard work and dedication in the interest of the general public and the immigration laws currently in effect.”