The recent development of Immigration Services director Alejandro Mayorkas being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog comes at an auspicious time. Mayorkas has been appointed by President Obama to be DHS’s next Deputy Secretary, and he appeared before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security after the allegations surfaced. With Secretary Napolitano set to leave DHS next month, Mayorkas could soon become the head of the federal government’s largest agency.
Because the investigation involves allegations of neglecting security concerns found in suspect visa applications from China, the attention from the Republican side of the Committee on this issue going forward is something to watch closely.
The allegations first reported by AP on Monday involve Mayorkas’ relationship with Hillary Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham. The relationship stretches back to the Bill Clinton days, when both were involved in trying to commute drug charges brought against the son of a major Clinton donor. Mayorkas was a California U.S. attorney at the time; Rodham was a lobbyist.
Currently, Rodham is involved in a controversial business deal with another well-known name from this period — former Clinton bundler Terry McAuliffe. The deal started with the creation of a new “green” car manufacturer, Greentech Automotive, which has been financed through the EB-5 immigrant investment visa program.
The program happens to be administered by Mayorkas’ agency, USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
Little-known until now, the 30-year-old EB-5 visa program is being ramped up by the Obama Administration to take advantage of increased demand from wealthy Chinese nationals. The idea of the “green” car start-up was apparently such a winner that McAuliffe and Rodham brushed aside traditional bank or capital market financing and instead tapped the visa program, which promises a green card to foreigners who make a $500,000 investment in the U.S. that generates 10 jobs.
Rodham and McAuliffe’s company, since 2009, has become the biggest EB-5 investment recipient ever. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for them. Rodham, the head of the financing arm collecting the investment funds (along with big fees), apparently wrote to his old associate early this year in an attempt to fast-track more visa application approvals.
According to the email, the company has been approved for almost 100 Chinese investors; many more are in waiting. Judging by Mayorkas’ history at the DHS thus far, Rodham came to the right man.
The same DHS inspector general investigating these allegations wrote a scathing report about Mayorkas’ USCIS last year. In a survey of staff officials, the IG found that they felt increasingly pressured to fast-track applications — even those that were questionable from a security standpoint. As summarized in David North’s blog over at the Center for Immigration Studies, the IG’s report found that staff were pressured to say “yes” to applications, instead of properly scrutinizing them. Staff also felt that the quantity of decisions (not the quality) was becoming a factor in their job evaluation reports. Other negative factors staff worried about: spending “too much” time evaluating applications for instances of fraud; fearing demotion and relocation if too tough of a standard was applied to visa applications.
Another key complaint from staff: private immigration attorneys were being allowed to “own” the agency, having too much input and pull regarding the agency’s internal processes.