Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., on Wednesday accused acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli of pursuing a "heinous white supremacist ideology" in seeking to deny public benefits to legal immigrants.
Wasserman Schultz took particular offense that Cuccinelli did not know how many children would stop receiving access to essential social services if a proposed immigration rule that has been blocked by the courts goes into effect.
"You have demonstrated that you will pursue this heinous white supremacist ideology at all costs, even if it means making critically ill children your collateral damage in the process," she told Cuccinelli during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
Wasserman Schultz was referring to the Trump administration rule, which would have gone into effect Oct. 15, that limited a pathway to citizenship for legal immigrants who had enrolled or used publicly funded programs.
Even though federal judges blocked the administration from implementing the rule, known as "public charge," the ruling has caused a chilling effect among thousands of families in the U.S. who are eligible to receive public benefits. Many have dropped out of certain government programs or barred themselves from applying for assistance. In Miami, health officials are alarmed by the stark drop in insured children, and they attribute immigrants' fears over the rule as a main factor.
Wasserman Schultz asked Cuccinelli if his agency had done an assessment to determine how many children were at risk of losing access to "critical services due to fear to losing legal status" under the "public charge" rule.
During her questioning, she accused Cuccinelli of wanting "to block all immigration and make life harder for immigrants."
Cuccinelli responded by saying that neither he nor President Donald Trump are white supremacists. He also said he didn't know how to answer Wasserman Schultz's question on whether his agency ever analyzed the impact that the "public charge" policy would have on children living in immigrant families because the "rule is a thousand pages long."
More than 16 million people in the U.S. live in mixed immigration status families, meaning that some are U.S. citizens but some are not. It's estimated that 1 in 4 children in the U.S. have at least one immigrant parent, according to the Urban Institute, underscoring the impact immigration policies have on so many children.
"When you're talking about affecting children, one would think that someone in your position was going to establish such a heinous policy with such far and significant reach, potentially harming thousands of children, then you would know how many children it would affect," Wasserman Schultz told Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli is reportedly being considered to become the new acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of all immigration affairs and agencies.