USCIS Nominee Rodriquez Skates Through Senate Confirmation Hearing

Using bland responses and touches of humor, the president’s nominee to be head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Leon Rodriquez, skated over what could have been turbulent waters at a Senate confirmation hearing this morning.

Rodriguez (a lawyer and son of Cuban refugees) was nominated to succeed Alejandro Mayorkas (a lawyer and son of Cuban refugees) as the head of that agency after Mayorkas became the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

My sense is that the process was designed to be an easy one for Rodriquez. Instead of being the sole subject of the hearing, as Mayorkas had been, he was placed on a panel of five, with the other four being apparently non-controversial nominees for the federal courts (three for district court slots and one for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals).

Almost as much time was spent introducing family members as was devoted to questions of the nominees, and senatorial attendance at the Senate Judiciary Committee was sparse. A relatively junior member of the committee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), was in the chair.

Some other senators dropped in to say nice things about home state nominees and the only searching questions asked of Rodriquez were those of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). It was all over in about an hour, and no votes were taken — presumably that will happen later.

Sen. Grassley asked about Rodriguez’s service as a member of the board of directors of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy organization. The senator was curious about a booklet published by CASA that encouraged illegal aliens to refuse to give their names to law enforcement officers; Rodriquez said that he had not known about it until the hearing.

The nominee answered another question about the organization saying that he had left the board at the time of an action that concerned the senator. In response to a question about prosecutorial discretion, a concept used by the Obama administration to play down the enforcement of the immigration laws, Rodriquez assured the senator that this was part of our legal tradition and that his aim was to obey the law.

He essentially did not answer the senator’s question about any intention to broaden the administration’s edict-created Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the amnesty currently under way for those who arrived illegally before the age of 16.

The senator worried that the nominee would not, despite protestations to cooperate with congressional oversight requests, actually do so, citing previous problems with both the Obama and Bush administrations. Rodriguez parried saying, approximately, that his challenge was to convince the senator that he meant what he said, drawing chuckles.

Rodriquez, who did not dwell as much on his role as a son of immigrants as Mayorkas had done at similar sessions, did one-up the latter on one aspect of their immigrant backgrounds. Both sets of parents had fled from Castro’s Cuba, but in Rodriquez case he noted in his prepared statement that “My grandparents fled anti-Semitism and poverty in Turkey and Poland in the late teens and early 1920s to come to Cuba where my parents were born.” I do not recall Mayorkas making such a multi-generational claim.

Rodriquez is U.S.-born; Mayorkas came to the United States as an infant.

It looks like the USCIS nominee, an Obama loyalist, is on his way to an early confirmation, particularly given the new Senate rules on such votes.

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