Trump has found a sneaky way to install Ken Cuccinelli as acting USCIS director

Ken Cuccinelli, immigration czar
(Image credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli took the helm of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Monday, making him the latest "acting" agency leader at the Department of Homeland Security — he joins the acting Homeland Security secretary, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief, acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) director, acting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator, and other top acting DHS officials. But Cuccinelli isn't even technically acting USCIS director, he's "principle deputy director."

This distinction will allow Cucinnelli to run the agency without Trump firing acting USCIS deputy director Mark Koumans, Politico reports, citing a current and a former DHS official. "The officials expected the administration to make the 'principal deputy director' position the top role in the department, which would allow Cuccinelli to become acting director under a provision of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act." University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck tries to explain:

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Cuccinelli isn't alone — this is how Trump named Mark Morgan acting head of ICE, Politico reports. The White House hasn't nominated either Morgan or Cuccinelli to fill these roles permanently, and Cuccinelli likely wouldn't be confirmed if Trump did nominate him, given the bipartisan opposition he faces. This wasn't lost on immigration advocates. "I think it's incredibly inappropriate to put someone in an acting position when they should be going through Senate scrutiny and the legally required confirmation process," Kerri Talbot, a director at Immigration Hub, tells Politico.

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