Trump to name Ken Cuccinelli to immigration job as White House seeks 'tougher direction'

John Fritze and Alan Gomez

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is set to name Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, to a top position at the Department of Homeland Security, bringing aboard a conservative who has been one of the nation’s most outspoken voices on illegal immigration.

Cuccinelli’s appointment was confirmed by a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an appointment that had not yet been publicly announced. The news was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.

The Trump administration has been shaking up leadership at the Department of Homeland Security for weeks and the president has said he wants the department, which oversees the border as well as immigration enforcement in the rest of the country, to implement his policies more aggressively.

In explaining some of the changes at Homeland Security, Trump said last month he wanted the department to go in a “tougher direction.”

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The White House official pushed back on reports that Cuccinelli would serve as the immigration “czar,” a position Trump considered creating this year to coordinate the administration’s response to the flow of migrants arriving from Central America. Cuccinelli will be named to a DHS post, the official said, but not as immigration czar.

Cuccinelli was Virginia’s attorney general from 2010 to 2014 and ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2013. 

Cuccinelli not only opposed Trump's nomination in 2016, he was part of a futile effort at the party's convention that year to allow delegates to cast their votes for someone else. After the effort failed, Cuccinelli threw his credentials on the floor and walked out, claiming party leaders rammed through the voice vote in favor of the convention rules.

He sided with Arizona in a 2012 lawsuit in which the Obama administration sued the state over a law intended to increase the power of police to enforce federal immigration laws. Years earlier, Cuccinelli drafted a legal opinion finding that police in Virginia could inquire about the immigration status of people that they stopped.

The decision came as welcome news to supporters of the president’s immigration strategy of cracking down on illegal immigration and limiting legal immigration.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it remains unclear what Cuccinelli’s role will be, and where he will rank in the ever-changing chain of command that features acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and White House senior adviser Stephen Miller.

But Mehlman said he believes Cuccinelli has proven his immigration bona fides during his time as Virginia’s attorney general and possesses, “from our perspective, the proper outlook on the issue."

"It's hard to prejudge how this will all work," Mehlman said. "But as far as understanding the issue and being on board with the general agenda of the administration, he certainly checks all the boxes."

That adherence to Trump’s hardline immigration stance is disappointing, but not surprising, to the president’s critics.

Douglas Rivlin of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said it was clear Trump was going to pick Cuccinelli, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach or any another "failed Republican gubernatorial candidate" in his quest to force the Department of Homeland Security to crack down even more on undocumented immigrants and asylum-seeking Central Americans.

"By selecting Cuccinelli, Trump is offering a preview of what’s to come from a Trump White House and Trump re-election campaign that is obsessed, failing, and flailing on immigration politics and policy," Rivlin said.

Then-Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli waves

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump to name Ken Cuccinelli to immigration job as White House seeks 'tougher direction'