Trump’s H-1B czar L Francis Cissna could go in homeland security purge
L Francis Cissna, the chief implementor and defender of Trump administration’s tightening of the H-1B visa programme, is among senior leaders who could go in a widening purge at the department of homeland security (DHS) that started with the dismissal of secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday.
President Donald Trump fired Randolph D Alles, the head of the Secret Service, an arm of the DHS, on Monday. And Cissna, head of the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) that runs the H-1B programme, one of his deputies Kathy Nuebel Kovarik; and DHS general counsel John Mitnick could be fired next, according to multiple news reports.
Trump has been frustrated by his administration’s failure to bring down illegal immigration, a key poll plank for him. It has been surging instead and despite his tough rhetoric and actions that include the controversial decision to deploy US military personnel at the border.
Trump has indicated he wants to get “tougher” on immigration generally and if Cissna was indeed replaced, things could get really bad for the H-1B visa programme and its beneficiaries, the employers and employees, who are already facing intense scrutiny, which has been crippling and prohibitive.
H-1B is a short-term work permit granted by the United States to American firms to hire foreigners for speciality occupations. Most of the 85,000 of these visas go to Indians hired by US firms such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, and American arms of Indian IT behemoths such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro.
Cissna “has been very tough on H-1B”, said Leon Fresco, a former Obama administration official and immigration attorney. “But I would not say that he has crossed the line into the blatantly unlawful”. The successor, he added, “will be more likely to engage in conduct (that) could be unlawful.”
Cissna changed the USCIC mission statement to drop the iconic phrase that defined the US as a “nation of immigrants”, as was noted widely, and went on to tighten H-1B rules to ensure Americans were not disadvantaged because of it, in line with Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy.
The USCIS under Cissna decided to rescind work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visa-holder in line for their Green Cards, introduced increased scrutiny of applications and workplaces to cut fraud and abuse and decided to give more weightage to US degree-holders in approving new petitions.
There was also a move to change rules to grant immigration officials the authority to determine extension requests and the duration, which, it was hoped by officials, would force hundreds of thousands of Indians to self-deport themselves. The move was killed after an uproar in India and the US.
But as Fresco argued Cissna’s successor could turn out tougher, and the attorney feared it could be someone who could do something unlawful.
Experts have also said with the president intent on getting tougher and with the hawkish Stephen Miller, the top White House aide, driving the immigration agenda, the next lot of DHS leaders will have no option but to toe the line taken by the president and his top aide.