A picture of Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne F.
Democrat CA

About Sen. Dianne
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2013-12-20

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    FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I wish to speak in support of President Obama's nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas. I have known Ali for many years and am proud to have recommended him to President Clinton for the position of U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, as well as to President Obama for his current position as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS.

    The role of Deputy Secretary within the Department of Homeland Security is an important one. The Deputy Secretary is charged with overseeing the agency's efforts to counter terrorism and enhance the security and management of our borders, while facilitating trade and travel and enforcing our immigration laws. Additionally, the Deputy Secretary assists in the safeguarding and security of cyber space and provides support for national and economic security in times of disaster, in coordination with Federal, State, local, international, and private sector partners.

    Mr. Mayorkas is extremely well qualified for this position and brings to this office a diverse background and set of experiences in both the private and public sectors. I am confident he will do an outstanding job as Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and he has my enthusiastic and unwavering support.

    Born in Havana, Cuba, Mr. Mayorkas earned his B.A. with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981. He earned his law degree from Loyola Law School in 1985. Those who have enjoyed the opportunity to work with him regard him as being highly intelligent, thoughtful, kind and compassionate, and dedicated to doing the right thing.

    From 1989 to 1998, Mr. Mayorkas served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, where he prosecuted a wide array of Federal crimes, specializing in the prosecution of white collar-crime. Federal law enforcement agencies recognized his success with multiple awards. For example, he received commendations from FBI Director Louis Freeh for his successful prosecution of Operation PolarCap, the largest money laundering case in the Nation at the time.

    He continued to distinguish himself by becoming the first U.S. attorney in the Central District of California to be appointed from within the office. Mr. Mayorkas created the Civil Rights Section in the office to prosecute hate crimes and other acts of intolerance and discrimination more effectively. He developed an innovative program to address violent crime by targeting criminals' possession of firearms, prosecuting street gangs, and at the same time developing afterschool programs to help at-risk youth discover and realize their potential. He uniquely demonstrated the ability to simultaneously be firm with criminals, protective of the innocent, and supportive and empowering to our future leaders.

    As supported by the many law enforcement and community awards he received during his tenure as U.S. attorney, Mr. Mayorkas' accomplishments extended beyond his district. He successfully expanded his office's community outreach programs and cooperation with international players in the fight against crime. He directly resolved cases while also overseeing hundreds of attorneys addressing immigration matters, which included complex and sensitive prosecution of individuals and rings producing false immigration documents, illegal reentry cases, and alien smuggling conspiracies.

    The Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, noted that ``he was instrumental in broadening collaboration between law enforcement agencies to address violent crime and expanded cooperation with other nations to address the growing threat of transnational crime.'' Combined with his prosecuting white collar crime, public corruption, computer-related crime, and international money laundering, she wrote that such a ``broad base of experience . . . provides him with a unique perspective on threats to national security.'' Mr. Mayorkas further developed his sharp legal skills and management experience as a Partner at O'Melveny & Myers, from 2001 to 2009, where he represented companies in high-profile and sensitive government enforcement cases. He was recognized by his worldwide firm with an annual award for ``leadership, excellence and citizenship,'' and was named by the National Law Journal as one of the ``50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America'' in 2008.

    Since his confirmation as Director of USCIS 4 years ago in 2009, he has continued to exert his positive influence through leadership, excellence, and citizenship in accomplishing the agency's mission. He has improved the immigration services and policies of USCIS by realigning its priorities for a modern-day America that seeks to preserve its legacy as a nation of immigrants while ensuring national security and public safety--no easy task.

    Throughout his current role as Director of USCIS, he has successfully preserved and increased the integrity of our immigration laws by decreasing fraud and bringing accountability to our immigration system. For example, Mr. Mayorkas has worked to secure our Nation's criminal and immigration laws in the face of increasing gang and border violence.

    [[Page S9077]] As technology advances, so too have our needs to prevent fraud and to safeguard immigration documents from tampering; Mr. Mayorkas has confronted that challenge by enhancing the scope and frequency of national security vetting of applicants for immigration benefits and by redesigning immigration documentation with enhanced security features.

    Simultaneously, Mr. Mayorkas has led USCIS in the other half of its mission--to preserve the role of America as a just nation that treats immigrants at our shores humanely and with an eye towards the potential they bring to our nation.

    He ensured the prompt review of applications of victims of trafficking and domestic violence so that they may begin to pick up the pieces and move forward in their lives. Mr. Mayorkas has also improved the immigration program for victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement in investigation and prosecutions.

    To combat notario fraud and other unscrupulous practices that undermine the integrity of the immigration system, Mr. Mayorkas launched the unauthorized practice of immigration law initiative. It is a nationwide collaborative effort with Federal, State, and municipal agencies and enforcement authorities that works to raise awareness among immigrant communities and to investigate and prosecute wrongdoers.

    After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he developed and implemented a humanitarian parole program on an emergency basis to save orphans and unite children with their adoptive families here.

    Significantly, upon President Obama's directive to grant deferred action to immigrants who were brought to this country as children and who seek to legally remain in the United States, Mr. Mayorkas swiftly implemented the deferred action for childhood arrivals initiative in 60 days. In less than 1 year, over half a million people have applied to remain in the United States, the only home they have known.

    He also boldly realigned the agency's organizational structure, including 246 offices and facilities worldwide, to more accurately serve key priorities and achieve efficiency. For example, his stringent budget reviews resulted in cost-saving measures of $160 million in budget cuts for the fiscal year 2010.

    I recognize that my colleagues have raised concerns about the EB-5 program in connection with Mr. Mayorkas' nomination.

    I actually believe that Mr. Mayorkas' actions to improve the integrity of the EB-5 program are a reason to support his nomination. They show that, when Mr. Mayorkas sees a systemic issue requiring action, he will figure out what to do and then do everything possible within the confines of the law to fix it.

    As my colleagues know, the EB-5 program essentially allows a foreign investor to obtain a conditional green card by investing $500,000 or $1 million in a U.S. business. The conditions can be removed if, after 2 years, the individual shows 10 jobs have been created by the investment.

    Because of the various economic issues involved in adjudicating EB-5 applications--which can run for thousands of pages--the EB-5 program has been called the most complex program USCIS administers.

    I will say up front: I have my own serious concerns about this program. I am concerned about the potential for fraud, against both foreign and domestic investors. I am concerned that a business created with this money may not turn out to be legitimate, and as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I know that certain immigration programs may be ripe for exploitation.

    I look forward to the opportunity, before the EB-5 program requires our reauthorization in 2015, to bolstering the security of this program.

    But none of that has anything to do with this nomination. Mr. Mayorkas was required by law, as Director of USCIS, to administer the EB-5 program.

    As Director, Mr. Mayorkas saw flaws in the program--flaws in the agency's ability to vet participants in the program, and flaws in the agency's ability to do the economic analysis necessary. So, Mr. Mayorkas set about fixing them. For example: Routine security checks of foreign investor applicants and principals of regional centers are now done.

    Regional centers now annually must show they meet the eligibility requirements and update USCIS on new lines of business. More vetting is conducted with these annual filings.

    Mr. Mayorkas brought on financial experts and business lawyers, who help review business documents associated with applications.

    The program has been moved entirely to DC with specialized adjudicatory officers and antifraud staff. The program is now close to the investigative, intelligence, and financial communities that help detect suspicious financial activity.

    I agree with many on the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle that the EB-5 program must be reformed. I supported Chairman Leahy's amendment to the immigration bill to do that, and I believe further legislative action will be needed to make sure that, if this program is reauthorized, it is secure.

    But I also believe that Mr. Mayorkas has performed his job as Director of USCIS admirably, including by making the EB-5 program more secure. That is a reason to support his nomination.

    Let me conclude by saying that this nominee has my strong support. He is a fine individual whom I have known for a very long time. He impressed me as U.S. attorney, and he has continued to do so as Director of USCIS.

    He understands the immigration system and the many other issues, like transnational drug trafficking and national security, that the leaders of the Department of Homeland Security must face. And I believe he will make an outstanding Deputy Secretary.

    I recognize there is an investigation by the inspector general's office at DHS, but the OIG confirmed that ``there is no indication of criminal activity'' on Mr. Mayorkas' part. There has been a significant delay in this investigation, and it now appears from press reports that the inspector general, who himself was being investigated, has resigned.

    DHS needs its leaders confirmed. It cannot wait for months and months, which it has done already. I do not believe that in this case-- which involves a distinguished nominee who has my confidence--that confirmation should be delayed. Rather, we need to confirm a leader who understands our complicated immigration laws and policies and who can knowledgeably help us navigate and ultimately implement comprehensive immigration reform. He has this needed knowledge and ability.

    I urge my colleagues to support Mr. Mayorkas.

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