POLITICS

Lawmakers seek answers from former USCIS head accused of interfering with visa program

FILE - In this July 25, 2013 file photo, Alejandro Mayorkas, then-President Obama's nominee to become deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A new inspector generals report has concluded that Mayorkas, now the No. 2 official at the Homeland Security Department improperly intervened on behalf of foreign investors. It happened in three cases involving the U.S. government soliciting foreign investments in exchange for American visas. Investigators said Tuesday that his involvement created the appearance of favoritism and special access. The investigation could not suggest a motive for his involvement.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE - In this July 25, 2013 file photo, Alejandro Mayorkas, then-President Obama's nominee to become deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A new inspector generals report has concluded that Mayorkas, now the No. 2 official at the Homeland Security Department improperly intervened on behalf of foreign investors. It happened in three cases involving the U.S. government soliciting foreign investments in exchange for American visas. Investigators said Tuesday that his involvement created the appearance of favoritism and special access. The investigation could not suggest a motive for his involvement. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

House Republicans are expected to press a government watchdog for more answers about allegations of undue influence exerted by the Homeland Security Department's No. 2 in three foreign investment visa cases.

Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth concluded in a 99-page report released earlier this week that Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas improperly intervened in three investor visa cases involving prominent Democrats, including the youngest brother of likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Roth said in his report that more than 15 whistleblowers spoke with his investigators about Mayorkas' intervention while he was head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The report concluded that in the three cases Mayorkas went "outside of the normal ... process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited" the groups seeking his help. 

Mayorkas' actions, Roth wrote, created the appearance of favoritism and special access and caused resentment among career government employees, managers and lawyers.

Roth is scheduled to testify about the investigation before the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday. The investigation was first reported by the Associated Press days before Mayorkas' July 2013 Senate confirmation hearing.

The visa applications Mayorkas is accused of meddling with were part of the U.S. government's investor-visa program, known as EB-5, which allows foreigners to obtain visas to live permanently in the U.S. with their spouse and children if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for American citizens. Approved investors can become legal permanent residents after two years and later can become U.S. citizens.

Mayorkas said in a statement Tuesday that he disagreed with the inspector general's findings but that, "I will certainly learn from it and from this process."

The committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and several other GOP lawmakers have been openly critical of Mayorkas' appointment and his work at USCIS. Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee boycotted his confirmation hearing.

The administration on Wednesday continued to defend Mayorkas, a longtime Democrat who served on President Barack Obama's transition team after his 2008 election and was U.S. attorney in California under President Bill Clinton. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Roth's report actually highlighted problems with the EB-5 investor visa program.

"Mr. Mayorkas is still at the Department of Homeland Security because he is a decorated public servant and an effective leader of that organization," Earnest said. "And we certainly value the kind of contribution that he has made to the effective management of that department, and he has played an important role in implementing needed reforms in that department. In fact, he was somebody who was leading the effort to strengthen the EB-5 program."

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