Why Ken Cuccinelli says Trump’s immigration policies are ‘consistent with the law’

Why Ken Cuccinelli says Trump’s immigration policies are ‘consistent with the law’

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JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a shift in the process
of determining who can be a U.S. citizen. The latest move on immigration by the Trump
administration at first sparked confusion and outrage yesterday. The rule is smaller in scope than initially
thought, but still says that some children born to Americans living abroad working for
the U.S. military or as diplomats will no longer automatically be U.S. citizens. We want to take time now to clarify this move
and look at the administration’s broader strategy on immigration with Ken Cuccinelli. He is the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services. And he joins me now. And thank you for being here at the “NewsHour.” KEN CUCCINELLI, Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services: Judy, good to be with you. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s — a lot of changes. They have been coming fast and furious in
the field of immigration, and as we have been listening to Amna, in citizenship and immigration. But what I want to ask you about this new
policy is just — we have just learned about it this week. It ends automatic citizenship for… KEN CUCCINELLI: No. No. JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. It ends automatic citizenship… KEN CUCCINELLI: No. (CROSSTALK) JUDY WOODRUFF: May I just state it? And then you can correct it if you disagree. But ends automatic citizenship for some children
born to U.S. citizens who are stationed abroad either working for the U.S. government as
diplomats or the military? KEN CUCCINELLI: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: Why this move? KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, first of all, the statement
about who becomes a citizen at birth is not correct. All the same people still become citizens
at birth. This is — and, for your viewers, this is
all about people outside the United States. Some people have said, oh, this is birthright
citizenship. It’s other things. It has nothing to do with being born in the
U.S. It is for people who are born outside the
United States who are not U.S. citizens when they are born. And, already, that was true before or after. JUDY WOODRUFF: But one of their parents is
a U.S. citizen. KEN CUCCINELLI: No, doesn’t — that — not
necessarily. Not necessarily. And 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. We didn’t change a single person who would
be — or would or could become a U.S. citizen before or after. JUDY WOODRUFF: But why do this? Excuse me for interrupting. KEN CUCCINELLI: That’s an excellent question. JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do this? KEN CUCCINELLI: Because the Department of
State obviously also issues travel documents. We issue various visas and other documents. And USCIS, the agency I lead, wasn’t conforming
to the law. And there is a very specific thing that was
wrong. Let me finish, please. So somebody could go through the process we
have now and show up to get a passport to travel home for their child, and they wouldn’t
get a passport. The State Department wouldn’t recognize them
as a citizen, because what we were doing didn’t — didn’t comply with the law. So we have brought ourselves in compliance
with the law and all the same people can still become citizens. JUDY WOODRUFF: But the bottom line is that
it makes it somewhat more difficult to become a citizen. KEN CUCCINELLI: No. No. I checked this earlier today. It doesn’t even take longer. There’s still paperwork, but it’s different
paperwork. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying this has all
been a lot of fuss over nothing? KEN CUCCINELLI: Yes. And we obviously could have communicated this
a lot better, but it is almost nothing. It affects, in paperwork only, about 20 to
25 people a year. And we came to that number by looking back
through how many people fell in these categories in previous years. JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we appreciate having that clarification
directly from you. KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, I appreciate you letting
me clarify it. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I do want to ask you about
some other changes, though. KEN CUCCINELLI: Sure. JUDY WOODRUFF: Just in the last few days,
the administration has changed the policy, as we understand it, around how immigrants
with dire health conditions are treated. Previously, they were granted what’s called
medical deferred action, which is a special status that allows them to remain in the country
legally, receive Medicaid, if necessary, and work while they get medical treatment. But now we are told tens of thousands of people
who have serious health conditions, whether cancer, cystic fibrosis, are subject to being
— to losing their ability to stay. KEN CUCCINELLI: Right. And we have a B visa, a tourist visa, which
can also be used for medical treatment for people who are here. No one gets deferred action who is here legally. That is only for people who are not here legally. And it is — just as it says here, it… JUDY WOODRUFF: Correct. They’re here undocumented. KEN CUCCINELLI: Right. They’re illegally here. And so ICE is the enforcing agency some. And this isn’t just about medical. This is about USCIS, a non-enforcement agency
— we’re not a law enforcement agency — some years ago started issuing deferences, which
we don’t — which isn’t appropriate for us. That’s left for ICE to do. And it only happens once people are removable
from the country. JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re asking — let me
just point out, you’re asking people who are in this situation with a very sick family
member to turn to an enforcement agency to let them know that they are here in an undocumented
status. And let me just bring it to a personal level. We saw the story of a mother from Honduras. She has a 16-year-old son with cystic fibrosis. He is being treated in Boston. His older sister has already died of cystic
fibrosis. His mother says, if he can’t continue this
treatment, he will die. So what’s the reason for squeezing people
in these circumstances? KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, obviously, this family
is not targeted, Judy. What was going on before — and it started
sometime ago and has now raised expectations — it’s raised yours, it’s raised others — is
— wasn’t consistent with the law. It was a law that says, on a case-by-case
basis, this can be granted. It was granted across the board. So now it will be granted on a case-by-case
basis. And humanitarian basis is a basis to grant
this sorts of relief. So it can still be granted to that sort of
— the family in you example. But let’s remember, these people also can
get B visas and come here legally to do all of these things. JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quickly, again, it’s
making it harder for them to do that. I do want to ask you about another… KEN CUCCINELLI: Only in the sense that they
actually have to now go do something. JUDY WOODRUFF: Another new rule enacted under
your agency, the so-called public charge rule… KEN CUCCINELLI: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: … under which the government
will deny green cards to legal U.S. residents and visa holders currently using or expected
to use government benefits, like food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance. My question is, how does this comport with
America’s long history of welcoming — I mean, you go back to huddled masses yearning to
be free. Are you now saying America doesn’t want people
who need any help? KEN CUCCINELLI: You know, that’s an excellent
question, Judy. Under federal law, all the way back to 1882,
over almost 140 years, we have required people coming to this country to meet these sorts
of standards, to be self-sufficient. And the American people want immigrants who
are self-sufficient. And that means that won’t go on these sorts
of welfare programs. And it isn’t all welfare programs. And even Medicaid is only for adults. It isn’t for people under 21 and so forth. But that’s a longstanding requirement of American
law, and it’s a core value. So… JUDY WOODRUFF: But is it a core value that
goes back to the founding of this country? KEN CUCCINELLI: It is. It goes back to 1645 in Massachusetts. JUDY WOODRUFF: But people were welcomed into
this country who were, again, your huddled masses yearning to be free. KEN CUCCINELLI: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: People came to this country
with nothing at all and have turned and made something… KEN CUCCINELLI: And tens of thousands of them
— tens of thousands of them were turned back as expected to be public charges. And that is a — that has long been part of
the law. The law we passed this rule for was implemented
on a strong bipartisan basis in 1996 and signed by Bill Clinton. JUDY WOODRUFF: But the point of it appears
to be to squeeze the definition of who can be an American. Is that what you and the administration are
trying to do? My question is — you’re clearly trying to
make it harder to become a U.S. citizen. KEN CUCCINELLI: For people who can’t support
themselves in America, who would go on welfare in the future. JUDY WOODRUFF: And why are they not welcome? KEN CUCCINELLI: For the same reasons — you
referred to the American tradition. And this is straight out of the American tradition,
both legally and historically. We — this is the most generous and welcoming
nation in the history of the world when it comes to this immigration. JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with this new definition? KEN CUCCINELLI: And we have always expected
people to stand on their own two feet and to be self-sufficient and to — we are not
the welfare provider for the world. And this is just continuing that tradition. JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again — and forgive me
if I’m repeating myself — in the beginning, this was a country that welcomed people of
all circumstances. The poorest people on the planet were welcome
to come to this country and to make something of themselves. KEN CUCCINELLI: Poor people can still come
to this country. But they — and when you look — so, we have
focused on the welfare benefits in our short discussion here. It’s one factor among many. And it is always only one factor among many. So let’s take the truly impoverished folks
who might — who have used welfare benefits up to the time they’re considered for that
green card. Please let me just finish. But, during that time, they have also gotten
a plumbing certification. They have a job. They have — those are other factors. They have gotten education they didn’t have
before. All of those can offset the use of welfare
benefits. The point is that they can stand on their
own in the future as they live here long-term with us as fellow Americans. JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you saying the ideal portrait
of an American is different from what it was in the very beginning of this country? KEN CUCCINELLI: No. An excellent question. You know, it has been — well, we will take
— I’m from Virginia, the beginning in 1607. I assume we’re a little different from then,
but for 140 years, the American people have strongly supported and had in law — and we
do today — the requirement that the people we welcome here will stand on their own and
be self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is one of those core values
that makes America unique. And we expect it to continue. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m sure you know many
Americans see that differently. KEN CUCCINELLI: I understand that. I do understand. JUDY WOODRUFF: They still see this country
as a place with open arms, rather than closed ones. KEN CUCCINELLI: And I do too. And I do too. And this isn’t closing our arms, but it is
expecting people to carry their own weight and not expecting to come here and for us
to carry them, as fellow Americans or legal permanent residents, which is what a green
card is. JUDY WOODRUFF: Ken Cuccinelli, acting director
of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, thank you. KEN CUCCINELLI: Judy, good to be with you.

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