Sinclair teams up with immigration official Ken Cuccinelli to defend ICE raids and demonize asylum-seekers

Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn: “What ICE is doing is not a targeted attack on people in our country. It is our government enforcing our laws. Period.”

Boris Epshteyn sitting across a table from Ken Cuccinelli

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, is the latest Trump administration official to sit down for a softball interview with conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group. In a recent “must-run” segment for Sinclair local news stations, Cuccinelli and chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn defend a wave of recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. 

Cuccinelli has been making recent media appearances to promote the latest effort by the Trump administration to curtail immigration, known as the “public charge” rule. And he’s made clear the administration’s opinions about poor immigrants from Latin America and Africa by suggesting that the message of the State of Liberty ought to apply only to “people coming from Europe” who can “stand on their own two feet.” Amid waves of public criticism for his comments, Cuccinelli made a late night appearance on Fox News to defend himself and accuse the mainstream media of misrepresenting what he said. 

And now, Cuccinelli has headed to another conservative media safe space: Sinclair Broadcast Group. Cuccinelli appeared in a recent interview segment with Sinclair’s chief political analyst, former Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn, that will air on Sinclair-controlled local news stations across the country. The segment did not address the “public charge” rule or Cuccinelli’s comments (it’s not clear when the interview was recorded). 

In the segment, Cuccinelli and Epshteyn instead focused on defending a wave of recent ICE raids that devastated Latinx families in several Mississippi factory towns and attempting to push back on the “perception” that the Trump administration is anti-immigrant. Epshteyn ended the segment with his own commentary, saying, “What ICE is doing is not a targeted attack on people in our country. It is our government enforcing our laws. Period. Enforcing these laws and being pro-immigrant are not mutually exclusive.”

Video file

Citation From the August 14 edition of Bottom Line with Boris

BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): In the wake of recent ICE raids, Democrats and many on the left have gone as far as to say that our current administration is somehow anti-immigrant or anti-immigration. I recently sat down with acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Office, Ken Cuccinelli. I asked him about this perception.

[INTERVIEW CLIP] 

KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, last year we naturalized more citizens than the previous four years before that, and we're going to do a similar level of naturalizations this year. So it's awfully hard for people, on the numbers, to point to this administration and say we're somehow stifling legal immigration. We're not.

EPSHTEYN: What's the real concentration of the immigration, legal and illegal immigration, policy of the Trump administration?

CUCCINELLI: Under President Trump, we've seen tremendous economic growth. He wants to utilize the benefits of the immigration system to continue that path toward a bigger economy and more opportunity. And that includes self-sufficient immigrants, it includes people who can help companies that are struggling to find American workers to fill slots. All those types of things are what this president has pushed for.

[END OF INTERVIEW CLIP] 

EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: What ICE is doing is not a targeted attack on people in our country. It is our government enforcing our laws. Period. Enforcing these laws and being pro-immigrant are not mutually exclusive. Everybody is welcome to legally come to our country and contribute to our shared vision of the American dream.

According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database, the segment has already aired on at least 46 local news stations in at least 29 states and the District of Columbia. 

On August 19 and 20, Sinclair stations aired a second “must-run” segment featuring a different portion of Epshteyn’s interview with Cuccinelli in which they discussed the “broken part of our asylum system.” In this clip, Cuccinelli lamented that asylum-seekers entering at the southern border are “just making the claim to get into the system, so they’re released into the country.” Cuccinelli went on to say that Trump has tried to address this issue but has been stopped by court injunctions “that no president has ever suffered under.” Epshteyn ended the segment by claiming “liberal activist judges” don’t care about “helping solve the crisis at our southern border” because they have stopped the administration from taking unlawful actions. 

Video file

EPSHTEYN: Immigration has been a polarizing issue since President Trump took office in 2017. I went directly to the man in charge of the Trump administration’s immigration and citizenship policy, acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, to talk about the problems facing our asylum system as well as those on the border. Here’s what he told me. 

[INTERVIEW CLIP] 

CUCCINELLI: In raw numbers, we have over 300,000 cases that have sat for a long period of time. Over half of our backlog is over two years old, means that they haven't had a single case yet, no hearing, etc. That's a real problem, and that's a real result of so many people coming across the southern border illegally who want to -- for economic reasons, who claim asylum, which is traditionally for people who are being persecuted because of their faith or because of their political beliefs. Those are the two main ones. There are others. But clearly we have large numbers of people that don't fit in either of those categories or any other legitimate category and they're just making the claim to get into the system, so they're released into the country. That is the broken part of our asylum system.

EPSHTEYN: Is there a realistic way to solve that broken part of the asylum system?

CUCCINELLI: Well look, the president has tried effort after effort after effort, and he's running into an incredible blocking mechanism in the -- I don't want to say the person, but in the branch of the courts. And they've taken steps with national injunctions that no president has ever suffered under, and I really believe that the courts have collectively been violating the separation of powers, invading the role of the executive branch.

[END OF INTERVIEW CLIP] 

EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: Liberal activist judges with no proximity to the issue of asylum have consistently stood between the government and their ability to work through the staggering backlog that they face in regard to asylum. If these judges genuinely cared about helping solve the crisis at our southern border, they would enforce the rule of law and let the administration get to work on providing relief to these thousands of people.

According to iQ media, this second segment has already aired on at least 48 stations in 27 states. The full interview transcript has also been posted on Sinclair websites.

For more than a year, Epshteyn was the only Sinclair personality creating “must-run” commentary segments for the broadcaster to send to its stations, but in February the company added commentator Ameshia Cross to its lineup to produce segments on the same topics from a more liberal perspective. The two segments -- Epshteyn’s Bottom Line with Boris and Cross’ Cross Point -- typically air during the same local newscasts on a given station. In this case, Cross did not have a similar interview with Cuccinelli; instead she devoted her commentary-style segment to denouncing the ICE raids. 

In the past, Epshteyn has regularly used his commentary segments to air exclusive softball interviews with President Donald Trump, Trump administration officials, and other members of the Trump orbit. But since Cross joined the “must-run” lineup six months ago, neither has used the segments for interviews -- until Cuccinelli’s recent appearance.

Update (8/20/19): This piece has been updated with more information and clips from the Cuccinelli interview. 

Correction (8/20/19): This piece originally stated that Boris Epshteyn's title at Sinclair is “chief political analyst.” In fact, his current title is  “chief political commentator.”