Trump official accidentally implies that politicians like Ted Cruz have no right to US citizenship

Trump's immigration head tried to justify the Trump administration's new immigration policy -- but it backfired.

Trump's Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli thinks only people born in America have a right to citizenship.
Trump's Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli thinks only people born in America have a right to citizenship. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ken Cuccinelli presented a very narrow view of who has a legitimate right to be a U.S. citizen on Tuesday, as he attempted to justify the administration’s new public charge rule for immigrants.

In the process, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) inadvertently suggested that even children born abroad to U.S. citizens, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Trump’s own Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, should not be granted the “right to become an American.”

Cuccinelli, the xenophobic former Republican attorney general of Virginia, was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition and was asked to discuss the administration’s new public charge policy, which discriminates against legal immigrants deemed likely to need public assistance based on their health and monetary needs.

The acting USCIS chief told the host that immigration is a “privilege” for those “who can stand on their own two feet.”

“No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American,” he said.

When pressed on the point, Cuccinelli, who once compared immigrants to rats in a 2012 radio interview, reiterated, “It is a privilege to become an American, not a right, for anyone who is not already an American citizen.”


The host noted that the administration’s expanded means-testing flew in the face of American tradition, quoting a line from the poem “The New Colossus,” which is mounted at the base of the Statue of Liberty and reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Cuccinelli’s remarks also overlook a large group of people born outside of the United States with a legal right to citizenship: the children of American citizens born abroad. This would include those born to diplomats, people serving in the military, people working in foreign countries, and even pregnant travelers vacationing outside the country.

Under Cuccinelli’s stated definition of who has a right to citizenship, a host of current elected and appointed officials are excluded.

Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, was born in Calgary, Canada, to a mother who was an American citizen. As a result, Cruz was eligible for both U.S. and Canadian citizenship (which he renounced in 2014). Cuccinelli previously endorsed Cruz for the presidency over Trump in the 2016 presidential primary.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie was also born abroad, in what was then West Germany, in Frankfurt, where his father was an artillery officer for the U.S. Army.


And there are plenty of others who fall under this same category: Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, to parents working overseas in the oil and gas industry. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) was born in army barracks in Verdun, France, where his parents were stationed. Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) was similarly born in Landstuhl, in what was West Germany at the time, at an army hospital.

Several Democratic lawmakers were born abroad to U.S. citizens as well.