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Cuccinelli Honed Hardline Immigration Stance in Virginia

Ken Cuccinnelli
Ken Cuccinnelli (Craig Carper/VPM News)

Ken Cuccinelli was appointed acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security on Wednesday, where he's expected to continue to enact President Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

That outlook is nothing new for the former Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, whose zeal on the issue helped define his state political career.

As a Republican state senator, Cuccinelli sponsored a resolution calling for revisions to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution so that only babies born to a parent who is a citizen could gain that status themselves.

In 2008, he introduced a bill that would have allowed employers to withhold unemployment compensation to former employees if they didn’t speak English at the workplace. He also voted against bills to allow undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition -- a perennial issue that will likely surface again in next year’s General Assembly session.

Later, as attorney general, Cucinnelli gained national attention for a 2010 legal opinion that allowed law enforcement to ask the immigration status of anyone they stopped, extending previous rules that only applied to people arrested and jailed.

Critics said the rules would encourage racial profiling, but Cuccinnelli said it would keep Virginia safer.

“We haven’t had any problems with profiling,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 2010. “None.”

The answers reveal how out of touch Cuccinelli is with the immigrant community, who continue to face fallout from Cuccinelli’s policy, according to Luis Aguilar, Virginia director of the advocacy group Casa in Action.

“It has broken any kind of trust between the community and law enforcement,” Aguilar said.

“Even our community to this day considers Virginia not a very welcoming state.”

Cucinnelli tried to tone down his immigration rhetoric during his unsuccessful 2013 run for governor. The Washington Post discovered his campaign removed a page of his website calling for increased deportations and employment verification.

Cuccinnelli has since moved on to the Trump administration, where he’s overseen new restrictions on immigrants and people seeking asylum. That includes a rule denying green cards and visas to immigrants who use public benefits like food stamps or Medicaid.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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