Former immigration boss dodges bullet at visa-investor hearing

Former immigration boss dodges bullet at visa-investor hearing

Bobbing and weaving through a congressional committee hearing, former immigration boss Alejandro Mayorkas frustrated attempts to bring transparency to a controversial investor-visa program — while ducking accountability for his actions.

Accused of improper conduct by an Inspector General’s audit in March, Mayorkas pseudo-apologized for his handling of the EB-5 program that grants U.S. residency to foreign nationals who invest up to $1 million in American companies.

“I thought I took steps to guard against favoritism. I regret the perception my involvement created,” Mayorkas said.

The admission appeared to contradict a claim he made under oath in 2013, when Mayorkas said he “never put [his] thumb on the scale of justice.”

Mayorkas’ contrition only went so far Thursday. “I did my job,” he maintained.

The former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director got political cover from fellow Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee, and blew off so many critical questions as to appear above public concern.

After nearly two hours of pointed inquiries by Republicans, the EB-5 program remains as opaque and ever. It is still not known how many jobs have been created or whether national security has been breached in the issuance of thousands of visas.

Democrats on the panel slow-jammed the inquiry. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, spent the first 30 minutes jousting with Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, over McCaul’s decision to put Mayorkas under oath.

Mayorkas repeatedly qualified his responses by saying, “to the best of my recollection,” or simply, “I don’t recall.”

Asked whether he thought he should be sanctioned for actions identified by the Inspector General, Mayorkas said only that “[Department of Homeland Security Secretary] Jeh Johnson spoke with me. Lessons learned.”

Mayorkas described himself as a “hands-on manager” while claiming large gaps in operational knowledge.

When McCaul asked if Chinese nationals who obtained visas via EB-5 were fully vetted on national-security grounds, Mayorkas glibly replied, “I would hope so.”

The former USCIS chief said he was uncertain if a “Deference Review Board” he created had met more than once to reconsider EB-5 applications rejected by agency adjudicators.

He did not respond to Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s question about how many EB-5 denials were reversed since 2012, after the review board approved 249 visa applicants for an EB-5-financed film project led by former Democratic National Committee chairman and ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendel.

Democrats on the panel lobbed softball questions to take the heat off Mayorkas and dim transparency. Applauding EB-5 as a “job creator” and urging its expansion, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked if Mayorkas received any financial benefit from approving EB-5 applications.

Mayorkas said no. He did not mention the boost in pay and power he received when he was promoted to deputy secretary of DHS under Johnson last year.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

 

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Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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