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Over objections, panel approves key DHS nomination

Dec. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Obama Attends Naturalization Ceremony For Active D
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas has been nominated to become deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (Roger L. Wollenberg/Getty Images)

The Senate is expected to confirm Jeh Johnson, the nominee to be secretary of Homeland Security, as early as next week, and is also likely to take up the more controversial candidacy of Alejandro Mayorkas to become the department’s deputy secretary.

After a contentious debate, Mayorkas won the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s approval on Dec. 11 despite calls from the panel’s top Republican for a delay until the DHS inspector general completes an inquiry into his handling of a foreign investor visa program.

Mayorkas has been serving as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a part of DHS, since 2009, after winning unanimous Senate confirmation. President Obama proposed promoting him to the deputy secretary’s slot in June.

But the nomination ran into opposition following disclosure of the IG’s investigation.

The probe reportedly centers on a program known as “EB-5,” which gives visas and a path to permanent resident status to foreigners who make significant job-creating investments in the United States. The program, run by USCIS, has been dogged by problems.

According to committee chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., one complaint alleges that Mayorkas improperly intervened on behalf of an application tied to a company in which Terry McAuliffe, a major Democratic fundraiser now governor-elect of Virginia, was an investor. The company ultimately did not get what it wanted, Carper said.

At a July hearing, Mayorkas labeled the allegations “unequivocally false.” During 16 years of government service, he said, “I have never based my decisions on who brings a case but rather upon the fact and the law.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the IG’s investigation has since expanded to include whisteblower allegations that Mayorkas sought to obstruct congressional investigations and intimidated employees who questioned agency policies.

With the findings expected in a few months, Coburn said, “we’re going to make a less-than-informed vote on Mr. Mayorkas, and so will the rest of our colleagues be forced to make an ill-informed vote on the Senate floor.”

Carper said the inspector general has so far found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Mayorkas or anyone else at DHS.

Majority Democrats on the panel all voted in favor of Mayorkas; Coburn and other GOP members voted “present” to signal their opposition to going ahead. The deputy secretary’s job has been unfilled for almost eight months since Jane Lute stepped down.

Senate leaders have not yet set a date for a final confirmation vote for Mayorkas.

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