What's an Immigration 'Czar'?
The Trump administration is creating a new position aimed at overhauling America's immigration system amid an accelerating surge of Central American migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The person most likely to hold the job: former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a conservative lawmaker known for hawkish immigration views.
Why a 'czar'?
"Usually, when the president creates a czar, it's because he feels that there's not enough interagency coordination going on. And it is true that in the area of dealing with people at the southwest border, while the Department of Homeland Security has the lead, there are other important actors at the border," said Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution.
Previous "czars" appointed by the White House over the years have focused on coordinating policy across different agencies to combat illegal recreational drugs or domestic violence.
Kamarck, an expert on the U.S. government, sees Cuccinelli's role as helping the administration try to get past the legal challenges that have blocked some of its immigration policies.
"As a [former] attorney general, he will be more sensitive to the legal problems," she said.
Though the White House has not explained what Cuccinelli would oversee, a senior White House official told VOA, "He is expected to take a senior position at DHS where he will work on issues involving immigration."
Cuccinelli is an outspoken immigration hardliner. Political observers interviewed by VOA said his views largely align with President Donald Trump's outlook.
Cuccinelli has supported denying citizenship to American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally. As attorney general he allowed American workers to file lawsuits when an employer knowingly hired someone living in the country illegally. He also restricted who qualifies for in-state tuition at public universities to citizens or legal residents.
The Washington Post reported Trump would prefer to appoint Cuccinelli to the position of director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the country's legal immigration system.
The current USCIS director, L. Francis Cissna, communicated to his staff he is expected to leave the post on June 1.
Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies and an outspoken critic of the administration's hardline policies, said there is "real concern" about having Cuccinelli as USCIS director.
"He thinks we have too many immigrants as it is," Appleby said. As USCIS director, where he would have authority over who gets legal permanent resident status and who gets citizenship, he could "do a lot of damage to people who have followed the law."
Trump also supports drastically reducing the number of immigrants coming to the United States, telling his supporters at a rally in May, "The country is full. We don't want people coming up here."
Appleby said Cuccinelli could try to further restrict immigration by extending the processing time it takes for immigrants to become citizens, effectively making it much more difficult for those who are waiting in legal limbo.
"He could turn back immigrants, refugees, who may legally have a right to come to the country," Appleby said.
The Trump administration has argued that many people who come to the United States and declare themselves refugees do not in fact qualify for such status.
Virginia attorney general
As Virginia attorney general in 2010 under former Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell, Cuccinelli issued an opinion stating that Virginia law enforcement officials had the authority to question individuals about their immigration status during a stop or arrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union at the time sent a letter to Virginia police chiefs and sheriffs urging them not to follow the opinion from Cuccinelli because it was "legally faulty and would lead to adverse public safety consequences."
"Because most police officers have not been trained to enforce immigration law, allowing them to question individuals about immigration status is an invitation for racial profiling and potential equal protection violations," the letter said.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 and a settlement with plaintiffs in 2016 have since erased most of a law in Arizona that gave police similar authority.
Kamarck said given Cuccinelli's history as a "very tough and very conservative attorney general of the state of Virginia," he might be able to help the president carry out his more restrictive immigration policies, despite the court challenges.
Trump administration officials "really have had a hard time implementing the things that they say [they would do.] So I suspect Cuccinelli … has enough government experience and enough legal experience to be a help to them if, in fact, the president will listen to him," Kamarck said.
Cuccinelli's position in the Trump administration is expected to be announced soon.