Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
On the Nomination of Leon Rodriguez to be Director of
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
Tuesday, June 24. 2014
Today, I’d like to discuss the nomination of Leon Rodriguez to be the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Mr. Rodriguez was appointed on December 19 and approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 3rd by a vote of 11-7.
I want to explain my opposition.
First and foremost, Mr. Rodriguez lacks adequate immigration experience to lead this agency, especially on the heels of potential sweeping immigration reform legislation.
When you read his responses to my questions, it becomes clear he has little appreciation for what his job will entail.
He basically says he has a lot of studying to do.
We need to do better than that.
Second, his previous experience with Casa de Maryland is a concern. He was a member of the Board of Directors from 2005-2007.
The mission of Casa de Maryland is to help improve the quality of life and fight for equal treatment for low-income Latinos. While a noble cause, if you peel back their mission statement, you’ll see the activities they are involved in.
They aid people here illegally in finding employment and gain legal status in the country. They provide legal services to do so, and fund day labor centers that focus on ensuring undocumented workers can find work on a daily basis.
And, they use taxpayer dollars to do so.
Their efforts are in direct conflict with the mission of United State Customs and Immigration Service. That agency has to ensure the integrity of immigration programs and benefits.
Casa De Maryland believes that anyone – even those who are here in contravention of the law – should be eligible for benefits.
The organization has pushed for drivers licenses for people here unlawfully.
They have worked to undermine the REAL ID, a federal law that needs to be fully implemented by the states.
They have organized rallies and promoted legal status for people who have broken the law.
They have trained undocumented workers to understand their rights, and published a cartoon pamphlet advising people not to speak to law enforcement when approached. They go so far as to encourage them not to even provide their names.
Mr. Rodriguez claimed he had no knowledge of this pamphlet. Yet, he was on the Board at the time it was disseminated.
Mr. Rodriguez doesn’t disavow their work or their contempt for law enforcement. In fact, he stated in one response that he was “supportive of the use of local tax resources to support the day labor centers” that Casa de Maryland established.
So, it’s concerning that he could bring that same philosophy to an agency whose mission is to “oversee legal immigration” in the United States.
Third, I am concerned about Mr. Rodriguez’s commitment to responding to Congressional oversight. Despite assurances given during his hearing, Mr. Rodriguez repeatedly failed to provide responsive answers to many of my questions.
Mr. Rodriguez was not responsive to the questions I posed in writing.
While he repeatedly stated that he would review the programs and policies if confirmed, Mr. Rodriguez claims not to be “privy” to internal functions or have any knowledge of how the agency works.
He refused to provide his opinions on very critical matters facing the agency.
In his initial responses, he stated the following response 17 times: “If confirmed, I will certainly commit to a careful study of this program to determine any additional appropriate steps forward, including any possible changes to address this matter.”
The second time around, he responded a bit differently in each question, but always alluded to the fact that he was “not privy to the internal factors upon which USCIS and its leadership base its decisions.”
Here’s one example. I asked about whether drunk drivers or sex offenders should be eligible for legal status and immigration benefits.
He responded in both instances saying that “In most cases, individuals who have been found guilty of a serious crime should not receive immigration benefits.”
In most cases? So, when should these individuals be allowed to receive benefits and legal status?
By not answering the questions about felons, drunk drivers, or gang members, he is essentially towing Casa de Maryland’s line that no one should be deported. He couldn’t offer an opinion of his own or elaborate when such people should get benefits.
He said he would be forthcoming with Congress, but his repetitive answers show that (1) he’s avoiding the questions and (2) he has a lot of studying to do before he takes this job.
Fourth, he wasn’t forthcoming about his views on DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program that grants work authorizations and stay of deportations for anyone under the age of 31.
One of the most pressing items on the agency’s plate right now is the renewal process of the President’s DACA directive.
In his hearing, and twice afterward in questions for the record, I asked about his plans with DACA and whether he’d expand the program. I couldn’t get a straightforward answer from Mr. Rodriguez.
I asked if he had any discussions about the program, and he stated he was only “generally aware” of the renewal process.
He clearly knew the agency published a renewal form for public comment, yet he claimed to have little knowledge or opinion on the matter.
What’s more is that I’m told by employees within the agency that he has a person at the table who is reporting to him directly on the agency’s decisions. I’m told that he has a conduit during discussions on the deferred action program. It’s not clear how much he is driving the policies, but it concerns me that he claims no knowledge on the matter.
Had Mr. Rodriguez been more forthcoming, we’d also know what’s in store for the President’s directive. Will he simply renew it, or will he expand it, as many believe is the plan? Congress should know his views on the matter.
In connection with DACA, I asked about information sharing between USCIS and other federal entities.
Just recently, a whistleblower brought me a case in which the FBI asked for information on a DACA applicant.
The FBI agent, in an email, said this:
“I am checking to see if there was any information available regarding fugitive “john smith”? We would love to get him in custody. I was interested in knowing where he submitted his finger prints and if he left a home address”
USCIS’ provided the following response:
“We cannot confirm that a DACA request has been filed without reason to believe that the requestor would represent an enforcement priority. However, according to your email, the agent can see what form was filed. As such, you could also direct him to our website for additional publicly available information regarding immigration forms.”
The USCIS’ response to the FBI was essentially, “Sorry, we can’t help you. We must protect the confidentiality of the applicant.”
But, this isn’t the only case like this. I’ve been informed about the lack of information sharing by USCIS since DACA began in 2012.
I asked Mr. Rodriguez about his commitment to provide law enforcement with information on people who apply for immigration benefits.
I didn’t ask about the statutory or regulatory hurdles in information sharing, but he refused to answer.
I asked about his commitment to making sure people who defraud the government – or who are lawfully denied benefits –are turned over to law enforcement for removal. In one instance, he said it depended on the person’s circumstances.
USCIS is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Their core mission is to protect the homeland. Yet, this agency has a culture of “getting to yes.”
Mr. Rodriguez’s nonresponsive answer on this matter concerns me because it’s not consistent with the mission of the Department. I wanted a firm commitment that he would change that culture. I couldn’t get that from him.
Let me also address his connection to Mr. Perez, the former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Mr. Perez, of course, was involved in the Department’s decision to decline to prosecute the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case.
During his hearing, Mr. Rodriguez admitted that he was aware of emails between political employees and career prosecutors discussing the decision to decline to prosecute that case.
Mr. Rodriguez was serving as Mr. Perez’s Chief of Staff at that time, and personally assisted in preparing him for his testimony before Congress.
Yet, after Mr. Perez testified that the political appointees were not involved in the decision, Mr. Rodriguez made no effort to correct that testimony after the fact.
Mr. President, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service can be a very powerful agency. They grant benefits to foreign nationals and are implementing the President’s weak prosecutorial discretion initiatives.
This agency will have a lot of responsibility if an immigration reform bill is passed by Congress. We’re talking about 12 to 30 million undocumented people applying for benefits if something is passed.
And, they will carry out an administrative amnesty if a bill isn’t passed. Under President Obama, this agency has implemented controversial policies and practices.
Many of the policies this agency has undertaken were included in the July 2010 internal memo I obtained titled, “Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
The purpose of the memo was to “promote family unity, foster economic growth, achieve significant process improvements and reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization.” The memo highlighted creative ways to achieve “meaningful immigration reform absent legislative action.”
While the administration suggested this memo was only an internal deliberative document concocted by bored bureaucrats, the Department has undertaken many of the proposals. They will do even more of these under the new Director’s leadership if the President decides to act unilaterally regarding immigration.
The agency’s culture of “getting to a yes” must change before any legalization program is carried out. The Homeland Security Inspector General has reported on this culture. Their own internal watchdog admonished the leadership for appearing to pressure line adjudicators.
Their report clearly shows that the immigration service has a lot of work to do to get rid of the ‘Get to yes’ culture that has pervaded the agency in recent years. The fact that a quarter of the immigration service officers felt pressure to approve questionable applications, and 90 percent of respondents felt they didn’t have sufficient time to complete interviews of those who seek benefits, certainly warrants significant changes be made immediately.
This culture stems from the leadership, suggesting that line adjudicators lean toward approval and focus on eligibility and less on fraud.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any sense from Mr. Rodriguez that he was committed to changing the culture.
So, Mr. Rodriguez’s appointment to this agency concerns me a great deal.
I question his experience and his managerial judgment to lead an agency of 18,000 federal employees.
And unfortunately, I doubt his sincerity in working with Congress on oversight requests.
I wish he had been more forthcoming.
For these reasons and others, I oppose Mr. Rodriguez’s nomination.