The top asylum official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has reportedly been reassigned to a service center in Virginia — an apparent demotion lambasted by some immigration officials as “just another attack” by the Trump administration on the asylum system.
John Lafferty, who led the USCIS asylum division for six years, was “pushed out” this week by Ken Cuccinelli, the agency’s hard-line acting director, according to BuzzFeed, which first reported the news.
NEW: John Lafferty, head of asylum at USCIS, is being reassigned to an agency service center in Virginia, according to a DHS source. Lafferty made pointed comments in his emails to officers about the big change to asylum policy. It did not go unnoticed. https://t.co/zcgGsqhGG9
— Hamed Aleaziz (@Haleaziz) September 4, 2019
The asylum division under Lafferty had long been a “source of frustration” to the Trump administration, particularly senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, according to The Washington Post.
Miller ― whose own great-grandfather was a refugee ― has been pushing a hard-line immigration agenda since the early days of the Trump campaign. He’s sought to limit the number of asylum-seekers allowed into the U.S., allegedly even telling former Trump aide Cliff Sims that he’d “be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America’s soil.”
Trump, who has made anti-immigration policies a signature of his presidency, has repeatedly railed against the U.S. asylum program, which he called a “scam” earlier this year.
Lafferty is a “pro-asylum” official who was well-liked in his division, a USCIS officer told the Post. “He clearly respected their work, and you could tell he wasn’t too enthused about the various new policies under the Trump administration.”
In July, BuzzFeed reported that Lafferty had penned a memo to staffers critical of a fast-tracked Trump administration policy that ended asylum protections for migrants who transited through another country before arriving in the U.S.
“We are once again being asked to adapt and to do so with very little time to train and prepare,” Lafferty wrote at the time. “If I didn’t know that we have some of the most dedicated, most adaptable and most talented public servants presently serving in the federal government I would be concerned about being able to implement these changes on such short notice.”
It’s unclear if the memo was linked in any way to Lafferty’s reassignment.
Starting on Sept. 10, Lafferty will become deputy director of the Potomac Service Center in Arlington, where he’ll oversee the processing of applications for permanent residency and work permits for international students, Politico reported.
A USCIS spokesperson did not specifically comment on Lafferty’s reassignment, but told BuzzFeed the agency has “a mobile group of senior executives who qualify for a variety of positions.” USCIS has the authority, the spokesperson added, to move these managers to different roles to “best serve the agency.”
Several USCIS officers expressed concern at Lafferty’s role change.
“This is just another attack on the asylum system,” one immigration official told BuzzFeed. “To remove someone with his knowledge of and history with the program will cause damage.”
Another USCIS official told the outlet that Lafferty’s departure was “shocking and distressing news for the civil servants” who work in the asylum division.
That official described Lafferty as “an incredibly sophisticated, highly dedicated, and ethical leader.”
According to Politico, Lafferty will be replaced in an acting capacity by Andrew Davidson, who currently runs USCIS’ fraud detection unit.