- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2014

Top federal immigration officials repeatedly used their agency as a jobs program for their children, nieces and nephews, pressuring colleagues to hire their relatives in what investigators described in a report this week as a “pervasive culture of nepotism and favoritism.”

The nepotism began at the top. The director of the executive office of immigration review, the chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals and the chief immigration judge each helped get relatives hired for paid student positions, the Justice Department’s inspector general said.

Investigators found that the immigration review office director, Juan Osuna, broke a number of anti-nepotism and personnel laws and ethics rules to get his niece hired in 2008 and then got her job extended in 2009. The other two top officials sought positions for their children.

During a hiring spree in 2009, the department received 35 applications. It hired seven candidates, five of whom had relatives working in the review office, investigators said.

At least seven of the current 19 members of the appeals board had children working in paid student positions from 2005 to 2012.

Nepotism also extended below the top levels.

One woman in human resources, who investigators said should have known better, asked colleagues whether they had positions for her son.

“I can send my son’s resume but he has no government experience but is a quick learner,” she said in her message to a colleague. That woman’s son was hired for a job in the immigration review executive office but ended up having what the inspector general terms “performance issues.” He was transferred to another job, then moved to a third job, “where he continues to work.”

“The culture of improper hiring started from the top. It was so permissive that some EOIR employees aggressively sought positions for their children, other relatives or friends, including senior officials who openly advocated for the hiring of their relatives to other EOIR employees,” the investigators said in their scalding report.

The executive office of immigration review serves as the government’s immigration court system.

In the case of Mr. Osuna, investigators said, his niece lived with him at times in his Virginia house, seemingly as part of an effort to establish residency so she could pay a lower tuition rate at a public university in the state.

That relationship also suggests strong ties to Mr. Osuna, meaning he likely ran afoul of not only nepotism laws but also rules that prohibit employees from using their offices for private gain.

The investigators said the niece didn’t apply through the regular channels but forwarded her resume to her uncle, who put it in front of the right people for her to get hired in 2008. She never even applied to be rehired in 2009, and it was Mr. Osuna who proactively asked about openings for her.

The inspector general said it referred its report to the Justice Department to take any disciplinary action it deemed necessary. The report did not say whether the inspector general asked for a criminal review.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it “will take appropriate personnel action as necessary” and that the executive immigration review office is beginning to train all employees on proper hiring practices.

In comments to investigators, Mr. Osuna said he now sees he may have crossed lines but essentially self-reported his violations because he was the person who requested the inspector general’s review. Once he learned of the findings, he said, he took steps to update the agency’s anti-nepotism policy.

“Thus, my conduct, and that of my agency, upon learning of the OIG’s interpretation of the applicable standards has reflected good faith efforts to be transparent, responsive and to get it right,” he told investigators.

The inspector general did say Mr. Osuna deserved credit for asking for the review of hiring practices in the first place and that the move to update the nepotism policy and to compile a list of employees whose relatives were hired by the executive office were “positive steps.”

Still, investigators said the problems were pervasive.

“The conduct that we saw in this report infected the entire organization from the highest levels down, and only through a concerted effort and continued vigilance will it be eradicated,” they concluded.

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