Acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli on Thursday defended his agency’s new rules on how citizenship is awarded to some children born overseas in what he claims as a simple change in “paperwork,” but acknowledged the rollout was poorly executed.
“We obviously could have communicated this a lot better,” he told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff. “But it is almost nothing. It affects, in paperwork only, about 20 to 25 people a year.”
On Wednesday, a memo from USCIS announced that living on a U.S. military base or diplomatic facilities overseas would no longer satisfy a “residency” requirement for securing U.S. citizenship for a child who is not otherwise automatically a citizen at birth. Those families will face more red tape.
Cuccinelli said reports that his agency was changing the criteria for citizenship were incorrect.
“The only thing that has changed here is the forms they have to fill out, the process they have to go through, to get that child to be a U.S. citizen. That is it,” he said.
Cuccinelli said his agency’s previous policy had not been in sync with the State Department policy on issuing passports, and was not in compliance with the law.
Other highlights from the interview:
- Medical deferred action: Cuccinelli defended his agency’s recent move to stop issuing deferred action for medical purposes — a policy that allowed immigrants subject to deportation the ability to stay in the U.S. while receiving medical treatment. “No one gets deferred action who is here legally,” he said. “That is only for people who are not here legally. They are illegally here.” He said his agency shouldn’t be granting relief from deportation, as it is “not a law enforcement agency.” “That’s left for ICE to do,” he said. He went on to say that humanitarian exceptions could be granted on a case-by-case basis, but acknowledged that immigrants without legal status would have to ask ICE, the enforcement agency, for them.
- Public charge rule: Cuccinelli also defended the move to tighten the “public charge” rule that denies green cards to legal residents and visa holders who are currently using, or are expected to use, government benefits. “Are you now saying that America doesn’t want people who need any help?” Woodruff asked. “The American people want immigrants who are self sufficient and that means who won’t go on these sorts of welfare programs,” he said. “We are not the welfare provider for the world.”