A former INS official who attended meetings with Rahm Emanuel when Emanuel was a White House aide says the hard-charging Democrat relaxed rules to naturalize even criminal immigrants and secure their votes for President Clinton ahead of the 1996 presidential election.
President-elect Barack Obama, who has chosen Emanuel to run White House operations as his chief of staff, has promised to sign legislation that loosens immigration and puts even illegal aliens on a fast track to citizenship.
Emanuel coordinated with Hispanic community organizers in Chicago to rubberstamp immigrants for citizenship, the INS official said in an exclusive interview with WND.
It turns out the long-time Chicago political operative was the behind-the-scenes catalyst for Citizenship USA, a project run out of then-Vice President Al Gore’s office.
“Rahm was doing it under the guise of Al Gore’s Reinventing Government program,” said the official, who helped direct INS security policy. “He was definitely the point man and was past his neck in the scandal at INS.”
Emanuel, now caught up in the corruption scandal involving Democrat Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, refused to cooperate with an investigation into the citizenship project by the Justice Department Inspector General.
“He got every rule changed in the hiring of adjudicators so they could naturalize more Mexican nationals to vote for Bill Clinton, not to mention getting the rules changed to naturalize anyone,” regardless of their criminal background, said the official, who’s still employed by the federal government and requested anonymity to avoid reprisals.
“They had immigration ceremonies at stadiums with DNC (Democratic National Committee) staff registering them as voters right there,” he added.
At one Chicago ceremony held inside Soldier Field, some 11,000 new citizens were sworn in.
Another former INS official, William Carroll, said Emanuel “took midnight trips to INS headquarters to meet with (Commissioner) Doris Meissner about Citizenship USA.”
He said that in March 1996 he and other INS district directors were given “marching orders” by headquarters to push through as many new citizens as possible ahead of the election, even if no criminal and national security background checks were completed.
INS deportation officer Tom Conklin said that he and other agents were pressured to rubberstamp immigrants “with two or three arrests for crimes like burglary.”
According to a November 1993 interview with Mother Jones magazine, Emanuel began pushing Clinton to be proactive on the issue of immigration right after he took office, and years ahead of the 1996 re-election campaign.
“I just wanted to be ahead of this issue and have our staff on it, defining it constantly,” Emanuel said, eyeing Texas and California, two key states in 1996 where immigration was a hot issue.
Clinton took his close aide’s advice. In September 1994, the president met with the head of the Hispanic group UNO, or United Neighborhood Organization, during a fundraiser in Chicago. The president of Chicago-based UNO, Daniel “Danny” Solis, explained that the growing number of immigrants represented a “great opportunity” to get a million new voters, but “we have to get all these citizens naturalized.”
Clinton told Solis to stay in contact with Emanuel. The two then coordinated a scheme to fast-track both legal and illegal immigrants for citizenship before the 1996 election, the INS security official alleges.
“The goal was to speed up the process and turn as many legal residents and illegals into Clinton voters as possible,” he said.
The officially stated purpose of Clinton’s Citizenship USA program was to eliminate an INS backlog of applicants.
The senior INS official’s allegations appear to be corroborated by some of the findings reached by the Justice inspector general in his 2000 report entitled, “An Investigation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Citizenship USA Initiative.”
Emanuel, who could not be reached for comment for this article, refused to cooperate with the IG’s investigation.
At the time of the scandal, he was White House director of special projects. After the election, he was promoted to Clinton’s senior adviser for policy and strategy.
The report said Emanuel “often attended meetings” with INS’ Meissner.
“According to witnesses at INS and the Department of Justice, Emanuel was increasingly responsible at the White House for issues involving the Department of Justice,” the report said, “and his interests in immigration issues were focused primarily on enforcement.”
The IG’s report also confirmed Clinton sat near UNO’s Solis at the Chicago fundraising dinner in September 1994.
Solis, now a Chicago alderman and staunch ally of Mayor Richard Daley, sent a letter dated Sept. 25 to the White House noting that naturalizing Hispanic immigrants at a record pace could give the “Democrats a strategic advantage at next year’s Convention” as Chicago’s INS applicants “represent thousands of potential voters.”
Emanuel, in turn, faxed Solis’ letter to Meissner’s office and asked the INS to review the document, the IG’s report noted. Citizenship USA was launched in August 1995.
Then in January 1996, Emanuel met with Solis and other Hispanic activists in the White House.
According to the report, Solis told investigators that “Emanuel seemed very interested when the representatives noted that the backlog of naturalization applicants represented potential votes for the Clinton-Gore campaign.”
“Whether Emanuel’s interest was real and reflected political acumen or merely politeness is a question that his refusal to be interviewed has made more difficult to answer,” complained Justice’s Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.
Meissner was not comfortable with the pressure Emanuel was exerting on her agency, the report said.
“Certainly the possibility that White House involvement in CUSA (Citizenship USA) could be perceived as improper occurred to many people, incuding Commissioner Meissner, who recalled having voiced her concerns to Emanuel and to both Attorney General Reno and Deputy Attorney General Gorelick,” the report added.
In 2001, Fine testified his investigation “found that the INS had compromised the integrity of naturalization adjudications as a result of its efforts to process applicants more quickly and meet a self-imposed goal of completing more than a million cases by the end of fiscal year 1996.”
Among other things, he said investigators determined that the Clinton administration had followed “inadequate procedures for checking criminal histories and fingerprints.”
Fine made a point toward the end of his report to stress that Emanuel, who had “reviewed the 1995 Solis letter and faxed it to the INS,” refused his request for an interview.
Seven years later, Emanuel still has not answered questions about his role in the immigration scandal.