Nepotism: Wrong in Immigration Court Hiring but Fine for Immigrant Admissions?

By David North on November 12, 2014

A bit of irony has just surfaced, totally unnoticed by the government, regarding the ethics of nepotism.

The Justice Department's Inspector General has just zapped three high-ranking officials in the immigration court system for causing the temporary employment of their relatives by their agency. At the same time, Congress enthusiastically supports the permanent admissions of relatives by the immigration system itself.

The first issue is, of course, important and visible; the second is far more important but virtually invisible.

Needless to say, the IG's otherwise comprehensive and highly commendable report on hiring practices does not even mention how nepotism in immigration policy seriously distorts the flow of new immigrants to this country — heavily emphasizing relatives (usually of recent immigrants) at the expense of talent and those in refugee situations.

These relatives, on average compared to the rest of the U.S. population, have less education and smaller incomes. It is our annual importation of poverty and it continues to balloon our population.

What the report does do is to document, in mind-numbing detail, how numerous summer jobs at the DoJ's Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) were given to relatives of the ranking officials of the agency. This had been the pattern for years, according to the IG, despite well-established laws and regulations to the contrary.

Government officials are not supposed to hire their relatives; it is as simple as that.

Caught in the IG's spotlight were three named high officials of EOIR, all holding civil service positions:

  • Juan Osuna, EOIR director, for the hiring of his niece;
  • David Neal, chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), for the hiring of two of his children; and
  • Brian O'Leary, chief immigration judge, for the hiring of his daughter.

Although all three carry what look like CEO titles, Osuna outranks the other two.

The IG's conclusions regarding the conduct of the three were all highly critical, but more so of Osuna than the other two. Of the EOIR director, it said "We concluded that Juan Osuna's participation in the appointment of his niece violated several statutes and regulations."

Of Neal, it said "We concluded that David Neal's conduct violated at least one federal regulation and that he exercised poor judgment by participating in the placement of his daughter ... in his direct chain of command."

Regarding Brian O'Leary, the judgment was: "We concluded that O'Leary's conduct in connection with the appointment of his daughter ... contravened the Standards of Ethical Conduct. We did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that his conduct violated the federal nepotism statute."

The IG chastised several other, lower-ranking officials for helping the trio with these appointments, and referred the "findings to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General for its review and appropriate disciplinary action."

Several comments are in order.

First, this appears to be a careful, thoughtful examination of an ongoing problem in EOIR, a nuanced investigation of the actions of senior officials. It should be taken very seriously.

Second, EOIR has apparently dropped its old, bad habits, and new systems are in place to prevent a repetition of the nepotistic appointments; in fact, EOIR may be well ahead of other DoJ agencies in this regard.

Third, my best guess is that the Deputy AG, many months from now, will reprimand the officials involved, but no one will be fired.

Fourth, I only wish that this level of careful, expensive, and gutsy investigation had been devoted to a serious immigration policy question — such as the steadily decreasing enforcement of the immigration laws and the lowering rates of deportations, rather than on this housekeeping matter.

Yes, the ranking trio was wrong, but these were short-term, $10-$11 an hour jobs that had nothing to do with decision-making. The IG should be spending his time on bigger issues.

For another take on the subject, see this article in Immigration Daily.