A hearing on the immigrant investor (EB-5) program, when not interrupted by Democratic senators wanting to talk about family separations among illegal entrants, included a vigorous affirmation of a Democratic proposal by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
In the last few weeks of the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed set of regulations to reform the controversial investment visa program; Sen. Grassley angrily asked why these regulations, which he praised, had not been finalized. His full opening statement is here.
The administration official on the witness stand, L. Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that the administration was working hard on the regulations and that the new ones would be out soon. When asked if the new regulations would be issued before the current life of the program expires on September 30, he said he hoped so, but could not promise that it would come that quickly.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), wondered if Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a real estate developer, had intervened on the question of regulations, and Cissna said he had not. Her position is that the program should be terminated.
While there were some other useful exchanges about the program — including much agreement that the initial price (now set at $500,000 for a family-sized set of green cards) could and should be raised at least as much as the Consumer Price Index has increased in the years since the law was first written — much of the conversation was about the administration's zero-tolerance policy at the border and the resulting separation of some children from their parents.
Every Democrat on the committee focused on the separations without any of them discussing the results of the catch-and-release policy of the prior administration. The Republicans and Cissna talked about both the separations and the consequences of releasing illegal alien families caught at the border — that the released aliens rarely showed up for their hearings months to years later.
Grassley said that he hoped that he and his colleagues could override the Flores settlement, a court decision that prevents the government from detaining whole families and thus leading to the separations at the border.
Cissna's opening statement dealt only with the EB-5 program, saying that his agency has been vigorously vetting regional centers and their projects, including making 232 site visits, sometimes finding that nothing was happening. He said that 69 percent of the EB-5 activities reviewed seemed to be going as planned, but that 31 percent needed more attention. He promised the committee a more detailed written account of what was going on with the 31 percent of the cases needing greater study.
While everyone in the hearing room knew that Cissna's agency, USCIS, has nothing to do with enforcement of the immigration law at the border, members of the party out of power traditionally use hearings on one subject to bring up more sensational issues dealing with the same department. That tradition was in full flower today.