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ICYMI: USCIS Director Nominee Lee Francis Cissna’s Long Held Anti-Immigrant Views

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As Lee Francis Cissna testifies this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his nomination for USCIS Director, Marcelo Rochabrun of ProPublica has an important investigative report that explores Cissna’s role in amplifying anti-immigrant messages and policy as an advisor to Senator Chuck Grassley, and his ties to anti-immigrant organizations and SPLC-labeled hate groups, including Center for Immigration Studies.

Also this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center is out with a new piece further analyzing the Center for Immigration Studies’ advocacy of white nationalist perspectives.

Rochabrun’s piece entitled “Trump’s Immigration Pick Attacked Obama Programs in Ghost-Written Senate Letters” is excerpted below and available online here.

Lee Francis Cissna, President Trump’s nominee to head the federal agency that handles applications for visas, refugee status and citizenship, has put little on the public record in his 20 years as a lawyer, government employee, diplomat and Capitol Hill aide.

But it turns out he has left many clues about how he could reverse Obama-era policies if he becomes director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a non-enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, May 24, Cissna, 50, who has worked on immigration policy at Homeland Security for much of his career, is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing chaired by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. From 2015 until earlier this year, Cissna worked for Grassley on immigration issues, having been detailed to his staff by Homeland Security. During that time, he remained on the agency’s payroll.


ProPublica reviewed more than 60 of the letters sent by Grassley during the time Cissna worked in his office. Among the policies they criticized were:

  • An emergency program for Central American children to reunite with parents in the U.S. The system “unquestionably circumventsthe refugee program established by Congress,” according to a November 2015 letter.
  • The system for granting asylum to people claiming persecution in their home countries. A November 2016 letter claimed thousands of immigrants were “amassing” in Mexican border cities with the intention of “asserting dubious claims of asylum, which will practically guarantee their entry.”
  • Giving so-called “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — the chance to obtain travel documents on top of work permits. This program would “open the door to undocumented immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship,” a March 2016 letter said.
  • A program allowing undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime to stay in the U.S. even if there are no visa slots available. A December 2016 letter said the policy is “being exploited by those wishing to defraud the system and avoid deportation.”


On Grassley’s staff, Cissna also worked on legislation aimed at changing the controversial visa program for college-educated foreign workers known as H-1B, which Grassley has criticized as displacing American workers with people willing to work more cheaply.

At a 2015 conference organized by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit that favors restrictions on immigration, Cissna said his boss’ bill “addresses this whole nightmare.” He said there were “elements of monkey business and shenanigans in this program that we think ought to stop. The primary reform of the bill is it requires the employers to hire an American first if there is an American who’s available and eligible to do the job.” A video of the event shows the audience cheering when he says he worked for Grassley.