A new government investigation has uncovered rampant nepotism at a Justice Department agency, where senior officials routinely gave paid federal jobs to their children stretching back at least to 2005.
The investigation focused on three senior officials at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a DOJ agency whose mission is to “to adjudicate immigration cases by fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly interpreting and administering the Nation’s immigration laws. Under delegated authority from the Attorney General, EOIR conducts immigration court proceedings, appellate reviews, and administrative hearings.”
The report not only implicated all three in hiring relatives for paid student positions, but found that “the practice of hiring relatives of employees into step positions in EOIR was widespread over a period of years. … Multiple EOIR officials told the OIG that hiring relatives for paid student positions was a standard practice or commonplace.”
EOIR Director Juan Osuna, who has worked with EOIR since 2000, helped his niece get a job in 2008 and 2009. She was a sophomore at a state school in Virginia at the time, and was looking to secure Virginia residency to pay lower tuition. He told her to send him her resume, and the next day he spoke with the Board of Immigration Appeals Executive Officer Violet Cromartie. The BIA is an EOIR component responsible for “interpreting and applying immigration laws.” (RELATED: Eric Holder Email: ‘Some People Can Kiss My Ass’)
“Juan and I chatted this morning, and concluded that we would place [his niece] on the board, as far from him as possible, and she is to be treated as just another student,” she emailed later that day — although Osuna denies that that part of the conversation occurred.
The same day Cromartie asked BIA chief clerk Donna Carr whether she’d hire Osuna’s niece, and she agreed, without ever having seen her resume or interviewing her. Osuna’s niece worked for the BIA full-time for six weeks that summer, and returned again the following year, before resigning in August 2009 to continue her studies in New York.
In 2007, then-chief immigration judge David Neal’s high school daughter was hired as a paid student clerk. Neal appealed to Osuna, a close friend, to help her get a position. In the words of the report, “Neal said that he believed he did not need to give Osuna more information about his daughter because Osuna had known her for her entire life and had seen her on social occasions involving the two families.”
Again Osuna said he did not recall the conversation. Neal’s daughter, like Osuna’s niece, returned to her position the following summer, and again the summer after that. (RELATED: DOJ Won’t Charge Cops For Shooting At Homeless Man 46 Times)
Presumably not wanting to play favorites, Neal also got a job for his son in the summer of 2010 by approaching two high-ranking immigration judges about available positions. Again the relative was hired before a resume was seen or interview conducted. That summer the rising high school senior worked at the Arlington Immigration Court for six weeks, receiving a salary at the annual rate of $24,865.
Neal was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to serve as chairman of the BIA in 2012, and is still currently serving.
Brian O’Leary, who succeeded Neal as chief immigration judge in 2009 and is still serving as such, helped his college daughter get a gig with a starting salary of $29,739. She worked her summer and winter vacations at EOIR for three years, “before resigning to seek another position.”
The report noted that “the hiring of relatives involved EOIR employees at all levels, ranging from administrative staff to the most senior executives in the organization,” and that “these hires were emblematic of a pervasive problem in EOIR’s student hiring under the STEP [Student Temporary Employment] program … two BIA officials [told] the OIG that they believed placing such students in EOIR positions was one of their job responsibilities.”
From 2007 to 2012 alone, 32 students related to EOIR employees were hired. At least seven of the 19 current and temporary members of the BIA “had children working in paid student positions in EOIR at some point between 2005 and 2012.”
“In that environment,” the report concluded, “candidates with no connections to EOIR employees were rarely considered for STEP positions in some EOIR components and therefore stood little chance of securing such a position.”
The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, who conducted the investigation, concluded that Osuna and Neal violated the federal nepotism prohibition, as well as several other statutes and regulations, though they didn’t say the same for O’Leary, who merely reflected “poor judgment and helped perpetuate the widespread culture of nepotism and favoritism in hiring in EOIR.” (RELATED: DOJ Official Osuna Wants More Immigration Lawyers, Fewer Deportations)
The OIG has referred the findings to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General for review and “appropriate disciplinary action.”