In an unusually harsh and detailed report, the Homeland Security Inspector General blasted conduct by the department’s deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, for his efforts to aid politically-connected foreign investors seeking U.S. residency.
“Staff witnessed Mr. Mayorkas inserting himself in unprecedented ways into an adjudicative process governed by statute, regulation, and USCIS policy. As a result of his deviation from the normal process, applicants and stakeholders with whom he had just been in contact received a specific benefit. Many employees concluded, not unreasonably, that the pressure exerted on them was because the individuals involved were politically connected,” Inspector General John Roth concluded in a critical report released Tuesday.
Mayorkas, formerly the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said any actions he took were aimed at improving the “badly-broken” Employment-Based Fifth Preference program, known as EB-5, which gives residency preference to aliens who agree to invest in the U.S. economy to create jobs for U.S. citizens. Through the program, foreigners willing to invest $500,000 or $1 million (depending on location) may obtain lawful residency for themselves and family members. It is a highly-regulated program to prevent wealthy individuals from subverting immigration laws.
“Regardless of Mr. Mayorkas’ motives, his intervention in these matters created significant resentment in USCIS,” the IG noted. “This resentment was not isolated to career staff adjudicating within the EB-5 program, but extended to senior managers and attorneys responsible for the broader USCIS mission and programs,” the report said.
More than 15 whistleblowers with direct knowledge of Mayorkas’ actions, including some very senior managers at USCIS and the agency’s Office of the Chief Counsel, came forward during the investigation—an unusually large number of witnesses.
“Each conveyed the same factual scenario: certain applicants and stakeholders received preferential access to DHS leadership and preferential treatment in either the handling of their application or petition or regarding the merits of the application or petition. Other employees with whom we spoke did not have direct contact with Mr. Mayorkas, but witnessed significant deviations from the normal process for certain applicants. Many witnesses provided emails, written contemporaneously with the events, to support their allegations of special access and treatment,” the IG wrote.
“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. Again, these comments were not from one or even a couple of disgruntled employees with axes to grind; rather, these were individuals throughout the ranks of USCIS, in different locations, engaged in different functions, with different experience levels.”
What’s more, Mayorkas’ focus on a few applicants was noteworthy, given the breadth of his responsibilities as USCIS director and even the size of the EB-5 program itself, which received more than 700 applications at its regional centers during the investigation period.
“Notwithstanding his other duties, Mr. Mayorkas’ actions involving a handful of applicants—going so far, for example, as to offer to personally write a complex adjudicatory opinion—were seen by staff as evidence of special access and special favors,” the IG wrote.
Specifically, the IG documented Mayorkas’ intervention in the adjudication of cases before the L.A. Films Regional Center (cases supported by former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell); the Las Vegas Regional Center (cases supported by Democratic Sen. Harry Reid) and the Gulf Coast Funds Management Regional Center (a case supported by Terry McAuliffe, a former aide to President Clinton and Hillary Clinton and now governor of Virginia).
“Employees’ belief that Mr. Mayorkas favored certain politically powerful EB-5 stakeholders was reasonable,” the report said.
Roth’s office conducted 50 interviews, including sworn statements, collected more than one million official emails and related files and analyzed more than 40,000 telephone records. However, investigators were unable to obtain records from Mr. Mayorkas’ office telephone.
In a footnote to the report, investigators noted that not all of Mayorkas’ email and phone records could be located:
“Although we are confident in the fidelity of the data we did acquire, we often found that the ‘dataset’ (i.e., email and like files associated with a user name) was incomplete for the time period requested or simply did not exist. We also identified similar problems with Mr. Mayorkas’ calendar. For example, employees provided copies of emails from Mr. Mayorkas that we did not find when we searched Mr. Mayorkas’ email dataset. Our investigation did not reveal that incomplete or missing datasets were the result of intentional efforts to delete them, but rather a combination of circumstances indicating a broader issue of data retention within the Department.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement fully supporting Mayorkas:
I know Ali to be an exceptionally conscientious, honest and patriotic public official. Like me, he is often impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy, can at times be very hands-on in resolving issues and problems that are brought to his personal attention, and is always mindful that we are public servants. Ali works hard to do the right thing, and never acts, in my observation, for reasons of personal advancement or aggrandizement.
“I continue to have full confidence in Ali Mayorkas,” Johnson said.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said he plans to hold a hearing on Mayorkas conduct on Thursday.