Tuesday, November 19, 2013

USCIS Management Presses Employees to “Get to Yes”

Immigration staffers pressured to rush visas for wealthy investors

By Jeffrey Anderson and Shaun Waterman-The Washington Times

Staff at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in California were regularly pressured by senior officials to fast-track visa applications from wealthy and well-connected foreign investors, causing security concerns so severe that the program was moved to Washington this year.

Documents obtained by The Washington Times and whistleblower accounts from inside the CIS Laguna Niguel field office show that staffers, who said they were acting under orders from senior officials, often rushed or skipped altogether economic reviews of applicants to the EB-5 visa program, which doles out coveted green cards to foreign investors who sink $500,000 or more into a U.S.-based business.

Emails from the Laguna Niguel office show that the EB-5 vetting process was a daily struggle for government analysts charged with, among other tasks, assessing the economic viability of applicants’ investment plans. The internal documents detail repeated violations of agency procedures that allowed foreign applicants to bypass proper economic review.

Economic reviews of EB-5 applicants and their projects are needed, immigration analysts say, because of the security risks posed by investors who have not been screened for links to foreign intelligence services, terrorist groups or organized crime; or whose funds come from, or flow to, unvetted sources.

The violations came to public attention over the summer when Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, revealed that CIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas had become personally involved in the processing of an EB-5 application filed by Democratic heavy-hitter Terry McAuliffe, now Virginia’s governor-elect, related to electric car company GreenTech Automotive.

Mr. Mayorkas has denied any wrongdoing, saying he got involved in Mr. McAuliffe’s EB-5 application because it raised an important issue about a point of law in the program.
Nonetheless, the program is the subject of an audit by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, of which CIS is part.

Mr. Mayorkas, who is President Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of the troubled department, also faces a criminal probe by the inspector general, according to documents released by Mr. Grassley.

The FBI and the Securities Exchange Commission are investigating a suspected Ponzi scheme in Texas involving an EB-5 applicant, and the FBI also is looking into foreign business executives who bought into the program, particularly Chinese nationals, who constitute the majority of the program’s investors.

Suspicions of foreign intelligence links of a Chinese investor was one of the factors holding up Mr. McAuliffe’s EB-5 application before Mr. Mayorkas intervened. But that was far from the only time when a case that raised national security red flags was pushed through at the behest of senior officials, according to a federal whistleblower complaint filed by an analyst on the program.

A May 3, 2012, memo that the whistleblower sent to David Garner, chief performance and quality officer for the CIS in Washington, warned of irregularities in processing an EB-5 application filed by an investor in CMB Exports LLC — a firm set up to bundle EB-5 money for an eligible project.

CMB was a “Solyndra-style project with a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy,” the analyst wrote.

The memo alleges that in April 2012 a CIS manager who now serves as special assistant to the director of the Laguna Niguel office took steps to “circumvent the established review process as a means to expedite” the CMB application. Those steps, the memo states, included bypassing the analyst’s required review and ignoring protocols regulating contact between adjudicators and the contract economists reviewing applications.

A multimillion-dollar contract between the Department of Homeland Security and ICF Inc. provided for the economists to be available, on-site, to support the CIS office of fraud detection and national security. That office was a key part of the plan to tighten procedures for granting immigration benefits.

An April 4, 2012, email stated that the manager should convey information from EB-5 applicants to the analyst, “who will then determine whether or not a full evaluation by one of the contract economists will be required.”

But before the analyst could make that determination regarding CMB Exports, the manager intervened. “Let me know who has this file,” the manager wrote in an April 26, 2012, email. “We received an expedite inquiry on this and we need to move the case.” The email chain does not specify who issued the expedite order.

The analyst, whose name The Times is withholding because he fears that being identified might harm his future employment prospects, said contract economists under his supervision had noted “potential red flags” with the application.

The analyst said in an email at the time that he found the application “suspicious” and called for additional review of the foreign investors with assistance from “national security agencies.”

But the emails show that, far from being subject to additional review, the CMB application was routed directly to the manager for expedited adjudication after she instructed a contract economist that the analyst’s involvement in the process “was not necessary.”

The manager’s actions “highlight that [the office’s] chain of command pays lip service to the notion of rigor and due diligence,” while fast-tracking the process for the “benefit of external political stakeholders acting on behalf of wealthy and politically connected EB-5 applicants under review,” according to the analyst, who has conducted internal audits for several other Cabinet-level federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies.
The analyst told The Times that EB-5 economic reviews of applicants were routinely rushed through the process in four to five days during the months he worked there. Often, he said, the application would arrive, as did the one from Mr. McAuliffe’s car company, on a fast track with instructions from the manager that Mr. Mayorkas “needs this fast.”

Sometimes, the analyst said, the manager would invoke Donald Neufeld, associate director of field operations, or Barbara Velarde, the No. 2 official in the CIS service centers operation, both of whom are based in Washington.

In December, Mr. Mayorkas announced he would be transferring the program from Laguna Niguel to Washington. Spokesman Christopher Bentley said the move was “a direct reflection of CIS‘ continued prioritization of the program’s integrity,” and the agency’s new focus on fraud detection and prevention.

“In recent years, the EB-5 program has grown steadily in both volume and complexity,” Mr. Bentley said, adding the office in Washington was “staffed primarily with officers who have economic, business, and legal backgrounds and expertise.

The move, completed in May, also made it easier to tap the skills of federal police and intelligence agencies, allowing CIS officials “to work directly and at a high level with our law enforcement and security partners across the federal government.”

If you’re a USCIS employee (or former employee) who can confirm or repudiate allegations similar to the ones made in this article, we would love to hear from you. Contact us as insiders@insideins.com. Your anonymity is guaranteed!

Ben Ferro

Monday, November 11, 2013

Is Immigration Reform Dead?

Immigration Reform Is Dead For The Year, Top GOP Reformer Says

In what will be seen as another blow to immigration reform’s chances, a top pro-reform Republican in the House concedes House Republicans are not going to act on immigration reform this year, and he worries that the window for getting anything done next year is closing fast.

“We have very few days available on the floor in the House, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it this year,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told me by phone today.

Diaz-Balart has been deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations over immigration for years now, and is thought to be in touch with House GOP leaders on the issue, so folks involved in the immigration debate pay close attention to what he says.

Worse, Diaz-Balart said that if something were not done early next year — by February or March, before GOP primaries heat up – reform is dead for the foreseeable future.
“I’m hopeful that we can get to it early next year,” he said. “But I am keenly aware that next year, you start running into the election cycle. If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it’s clearly dead. It flatlines.”

Reformers on both sides have been pushing for action this year. Three House Republicans have urged the leadership to allow a vote on something, and House Democrats have introduced their own proposal. GOP leaders have not scheduled a vote on reform this year, but they haven’t ruled one out.

Even some Republicans have ripped the GOP leadership’s foot dragging. GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada recently said it would be “disappointing” if leaders were to “punt the issue until 2014 for political reasons”

Now Diaz-Balart says a vote this year isn’t going to happen. This matters because he is one of the key Republicans who is negotiating over a piecemeal proposal to do something about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. This proposal has yet to be released, but the Tea Leaves suggest it will include probation for the 11 million, enabling them to work legally, contingent on getting E-Verify running (if it isn’t after five years, those on probation would revert to illegal status). This idea, which was in the now-defunct House Gang of Seven plan, is seen as one of the few ways Republicans might be able to support reform that deals with the 11 million.

Diaz-Balart said those working on a proposal for the 11 million were making “great progress.” In a note of optimism, he predicted he might be able to get more than half the GOP caucus to support it, though he said it would have to be “bipartisan” to succeed, and allowed that getting both Republican and Democratic support for it would amount to “threading the needle.”

There are other ways reform might get done. For instance, GOP leaders could allow piecemeal votes on border security and the Kids Act — which is supported by Eric Cantor and would give citizenship only to the DREAMers. That could conceivably lead to negotiations between the House and Senate, but conservatives will resist that outcome, and it’s a long shot. Nor is there any sign GOP leaders will hold any such votes this year, either.

As for the proposal for the 11 million Diaz-Balart is working on, it now looks like it won’t be introduced until early next year. And Diaz-Balart cautioned that it — and/or reform in general — had to be acted on right away to have any chance. “That window is definitely closing,” he said.

Indeed, the Congressman’s comments read like a bit of a wake-up call: The House GOP is now at serious risk of killing immigration reform for the foreseeable future.  How many Republicans care, of course, is another question entirely.

Article by Greg Sargent as printed in the Washington Post

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Immigration Reform Debate Begins to Reheat

More Gang of Eight Foes
Immigration officers complain that DHS won’t let them enforce immigration laws.

Conservative critics of the Gang of Eight immigration bill are closely watching the House, wary of any actions that could lead to a conference committee with the Senate. Many have been critical of what they regard as House leadership’s equivocation on the issue, and now some are accusing House Republicans of failing to adequately investigate the Obama administration’s failure to enforce existing immigration law.

Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, the union representing more than 7,500 officers and support staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is urging House lawmakers to investigate alleged abuses by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before introducing any immigration-reform legislation. “We are urging all lawmakers to demand an investigation of DHS before moving immigration bills,” Crane, a vocal critic of the Gang of Eight, wrote in a letter to members of Congress on Monday.

He is joined by Kenneth Palinkas, president of the union representing officers and staff of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who also opposes the Gang of Eight bill. “At every step, this administration places obstacles and roadblocks in front of our adjudication officers in their attempts to protect our nation’s security and the American taxpayer,” Palinkas said on October 10. He has warned that pursuing immigration reform of any kind “without first confronting the widespread abuses at USCIS would be to invite disaster.”

Both union presidents complain that neither the Gang of Eight nor President Obama has sought their input on the issue of immigration-law enforcement. Crane has been trying to secure a meeting at the White House since February.

“ICE officers are being ordered by DHS political appointees to ignore the law,” Crane wrote Monday. “Violent criminal aliens are released every day from jails back into American communities. ICE Officers face disciplinary action for engaging in routine law enforcement actions.” Last year, a group of ICE agents sued the Obama administration over its June 2012 policy directive designed to give certain illegal immigrants — so-called DREAMers, who were brought to the country as children — a reprieve from deportation efforts. The agents contend that the administration’s directive has been applied far too broadly and often forces them to release illegal immigrants arrested for violent crimes, such as assaulting an officer. In some cases, known gang members with criminal histories are let go without charge. All they have to do is claim protection under “Obama’s DREAM Act,” as some have taken to calling it.

“This a public-safety issue,” Crane tells National Review Online. “The administration’s actions are putting the American people at risk, and I think every member of Congress should be demanding answers.” Essentially, his agents are prohibited from enforcing the law; they are “beat down and scared” and under the constant threat of retaliation from an agency (DHS) that “rules with an iron fist.” He is skeptical of any immigration-reform effort that fails to address these concerns.

Palinkas argues that USCIS, which is charged with processing immigrant applications for visas and requests for legal status, has become “an approval machine” at the administration’s behest: The approval rate of applications for legal status under the so-called “DREAM order” is almost 100 percent. Adjudicators are given “approval quotas” and discouraged from fully vetting applications, Palinkas says. Employees are forced to comply with administrative orders requiring USCIS to grant welfare benefits to immigrants who are not legally eligible to receive them.

“We’re ready and willing to meet with anyone and everyone who asks, and to help out with any investigations,” Crane says. House Republicans have held a number of hearings dealing with issues of border security and interior immigration enforcement, but none so far have specifically addressed the concerns presented by the immigration-law-enforcement community.

A senior conservative aide opposed to the Gang of Eight suggests that House leadership is reluctant to draw attention to the accusation from immigration officers out of fear that it could further complicate the politics of immigration reform, which is backed by prominent interest groups in both parties. “It’s easy to be tough when you don’t have to confront any embedded special interests,” the aide said, citing as examples Republican resolve during investigations into scandals surrounding the IRS and the Fast and Furious program. “The real question is, Are you tough when it requires you to take on the special interests in your own party?”

The “grand thinkers” in the Republican party just want to “get the immigration issue behind” them and know that the base is already on edge, the aide adds. “It would be inconvenient to explore these scandals and corrupt activities, because revealing them would require taking action to address them, and that would be an unpleasant roadblock to the swift passage of an immigration bill.”

     Reprint of article by Andrew Stiles a political reporter for National Review Online.

Ben Ferro

Current or former INS, CIS, ICE, CBP, State Dept. employees and/or concerned members of the general public, send your thoughts and comments on this topic to