A high ranking Department of Homeland Security official exerted improper influence on the granting of immigration benefits for politically connected individuals, according to a new government report.
In a report released Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General looked at three instances in which Alejandro Mayorkas, then-Director of USCIS but currently the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was alleged to have exerted undue influence on the processing and adjudication of Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) program benefits.
“The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access,” the IG’s report reads.
The report looked at various instances of alleged favoritism. It named Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Las Vegas Regional Center as well as an electric car company on which now-governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe was a board member and Anthony Rodham — the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — was involved.
According to the report in each of the matters it considered, were it not for “Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention, the matter would have been decided differently.”
The IG explained that it began the investigation into Mayorkas’ interventions following a whistle-blower allegation in September 2012. The IG noted that in the course of its investigation an unusually high number of witnesses at different levels of authority, “more than 15.”
“Their allegations were unequivocal: Mr. Mayorkas gave special access and treatment to certain individuals and parties. They told us he created special processes and revised existing policies in the EB-5 program to accommodate specific parties. According to the employees, but for Mr. Mayorkas’ actions, the career staff would have decided these matters differently. Employees felt uncomfortable and pressured to comply with managers’ instructions that appeared to have come from Mr. Mayorkas or those working directly for him,” the report reads.
Overall, the employees charged that Mayorkas’ favoritism was offered to the politically connected.
“Many employees concluded, not unreasonably, that the pressure exerted on them was because the individuals involved were politically connected,” the report reads.
The allegations about Mayorkas’ influence on behalf of Reid and McAuliffe have been in the press prior to the IG’s report, which was dispatched to DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson Tuesday from Inspector General John Roth.
“The report is furnished for whatever action you consider appropriate,” Roth’s note to Johnson reads.
Roth added that the IG’s office will continue to protect the identities of the witnesses in the report, calling them “courageous employees.”
“We hope their actions will set an example for all potential whistleblowers who look to the Office of the Inspector General to give them a voice,” Roth added.
In a statement released in response to the IG’s report Mayorkas said he disagreed with it but would “learn from it.”
“As the leader of U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, I had the responsibility to ensure that cases, including the three that are the focus of the report, were decided as the law required and that agency errors were corrected,” he said. “I fulfilled that responsibility and I also took steps to ensure that my involvement was understood by those around me.”
He further argued that the EB-5 program was “badly broken” before his tenure.
“There was erroneous decision-making and insufficient security vetting of cases,” he added. “I could not and did not turn my back on my responsibility to address those grave problems. I made improving the program a priority and I did so in a hands-on manner, through cases, policies, and sweeping personnel and organizational changes.
Johnson reacted to the report by expressing his support for Mayorkas and also said there are lessons to be learned.
“I continue to have full confidence in Ali Mayorkas. He is doing an outstanding job as Deputy Secretary,” he said. “He is a valuable, hard-working and energetic leader who cares about our people and treats them with respect. He is indispensable to me in our efforts to bring about some tough reforms for the Department of Homeland Security.”
The DHS chief also said that he would be making changes to the program and encouraged Congress to assist him in the process.
“I am directing the creation of a new protocol to ensure that the EB-5 program is free from the reality or perception of improper outside influence,” he said. “I have asked the Department’s General Counsel, in consultation with USCIS officials who administer the EB-5 program, to develop such a protocol for my approval.”