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USCIS Director Cissna: Immigration Friend or Foe?

Bridge Team Member

Lee Francis Cissna has been sworn in as the Director of theUnited States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which allows him oversightof all lawful immigration. For much of his career,Cissna worked as Director of Immigration Policy at the Department of HomelandSecurity (DHS), which houses the USCIS. His move to takeover direction of theUSCIS faced relatively little opposition, as the Senatevote adhered closely to party lines during his Oct. 5 confirmation hearing.

The effect Cissna’s leadership will have on the immigration zeitgeistremains to be seen, but there are some clues out there.

Grassley & H-1BReform

Cissna was detailed to Chairman ChuckGrassley’s staff at the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2015 until earlierthis year. Grassley, R-Iowa, is known for being tough on immigration and has ledthe effort to reformthe H-1B visa program. As his placement with Grassley’s committee most likelyconfirms, Cissna is believed to have worked closely with Grassley on both harshpolicy and rhetoric related to immigration reform.

The Softer Side ofCissna

Cissna testifiedbefore the Senate Judiciary Committee in May – his initial vetting followinghis nomination – where he waxed somewhat poetically about his own family’sclose ties to legal immigration, stating that both his mother and mother-in-lawimmigrated to the U.S. Cissna went on to say that, were he to be confirmed,“these experiences will undoubtedly illuminate everything I do as USCISDirector.”

That all soundsvery immigration friendly.

The Rest of the Story

Cissna’s responsesto follow-up questions at the hearing, however, belie different tendencies.Regarding Trump’s executive order banning entrance for people from sevenMuslim-majority countries, Cissna begged off, citing ongoing litigation, and,ultimately, committed only to his belief that people shouldn’t be denied entryon a “solely” religious basis. The focus of Cissna’s responsesskirted the issue of bolstering high-skilled immigration mechanisms, such asthe H-1B visa, and instead chose to focus on his adherence to immigrationpolicy that advances the U.S. economy and better positions Americans in theworkforce. 

Cissna declined to further elaborate regarding any plans hemay have related to immigration policy changes.

Cissna & Trump’sPresidential Campaign

Cissna also had close ties to Donald Trump’s presidentialcampaign, and he revealed in the public version of his nomination questionnairethat, beginning in September 2016, he volunteered his immigration expertise tothe campaign about once a week. In his own words, he “offered technicalassistance to the campaign regarding immigration policy and operations.” He clarifiesthis further by explaining that his volunteer work was primarily related toemployment-based visa policies.

This last comment has the potential to strike fear in themany employers who rely upon employment-based visas to bring in foreign talent.President Trump’s own firm stance on tightening immigration is well documented,and it’s not a huge leap to deduce that Cissna is, at the least,philosophically aligned with that stance.  

What’s Next?

Cissna’s restrictive inclination toward immigration is wellestablished. As for changes in immigration policy, watch this space.

Should you have any questions about how this impacts your business or employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at support@bridge.us.

Disclaimer: This content is not a form of legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for legal counsel. Bridge US encourages readers to discuss any and all immigration-related concerns with an attorney.


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