In particular, at the end of the Trump administration, the acting head of the ICE did not sign the new labor agreement, which came about in a time of bureaucratic turbulence. An acting director of ICE, Tony Pham, abruptly resigned in late December. He was replaced by Jonathan Fahey, who abruptly resigned on January 13th.
Mr. Fahey was replaced by Tae D. Johnson, who did not sign the agreement. Instead, Mr. Cuccinelli is identified in the signatures “for the agency”, but without a title. Mr Cuccinelli said it was appropriate for him to sign the agreement as assistant secretary and he did so after consulting the general counsel.
Before stepping down, Mr. Fahey had struggled for days against efforts to strengthen the ICE union and ultimately refused to sign the deal, according to the senior Homeland Security official who was familiar with the matter.
The Trump administration had tried in various ways to give Mr. Cuccinelli a leadership role in the Department of Homeland Security without going through Senate confirmation, but the legal legitimacy of his appointment to various positions was a recurring dispute.
In 2019, Mr. Trump attempted to make Mr. Cuccinelli acting head of the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency. However, in March 2020, a federal judge ruled his appointment was illegal and overturned the measures he had taken because he lacked the legal authority to be in that position. The Trump administration did not appeal this ruling.
The administration also tried to make Mr. Cuccinelli the number 2 of the department, giving him the title of senior official who performs the duties of assistant secretary. In August, the Government Accountability Office issued a statement that although it was not a court ruling, this appointment was also legally invalid.
Mr. Cuccinelli has repeatedly put the ICE management under pressure to adopt stricter guidelines. Shortly after joining the Citizenship and Immigration Service, Mr. Cuccinelli urged the agency to add new restrictions on the student visa program, which is under the authority of ICE and not the agency he was supposed to head at the time. His actions angered other department officials and prompted intervention from Kevin K. McAleenan, a former acting Secretary of Homeland Security.