Dorothea Lay was on track to become a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals, part of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Her 25-year government career had prepared her for the post, as reflected in four letters of recommendation from academics and current and former officials. In December 2016, nine months after submitting her application, she was offered the job. But administrations changed, Jeff Sessions assumed the role of attorney general, and by early 2018 the offer was withdrawn.
That’s the question at the center of a complaint filed by Lay, an Idaho native, with the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative body. In a letter to Lay, 53, the EOIR said it was rescinding her offer because “the needs of the agency have evolved,” even though the agency announced around the same time that it wanted to expand the size of the appeals board. The complaint, which was first reported by CNN, suggests that political considerations may have been taken into account in a review of Lay’s background, citing Lay’s letters of recommendation from people who “had liberal backgrounds or were perceived as having liberal backgrounds.”
The suspicion of politically based hiring has lingered among Democrats, who raised concerns in April and again in May. In the May letter, directed to Michael E. Horowitz, Democrats urged the inspector general of the Justice Department to investigate “allegations of politicized hiring practices,” citing cases in which offers for immigration judges and Board of Immigration Appeals positions had been delayed or withdrawn. (Lay’s attorney, Zachary Henige, also represents two other people who say their offers were withdrawn over political differences.) Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd responded to the Democrats’ allegations in a letter: “As stated in every immigration judge hiring announcement, the Department of Justice does not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation.”