The latest news on the embattled immigrant investor (EB-5) program reveals that an arm of the Department of Homeland Security worries that Iranian operatives may have infiltrated the program.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), renewing a detailed attack on the program begun by Sen. Thomas Coburn (R-Okla.) and reported here earlier, dropped a bombshell on the controversial sale-of-visas program by releasing a hitherto secret memorandum on EB-5 written by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit of DHS. For the text of both the senator's letter to the department and the leaked memo, see here.
The key paragraph in the letter was:
One section of the memo outlines "concerns that this particular visa program [EB-5] may be abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States...." Two of the operatives allegedly "facilitate terrorism and are involved in an illegal procurement network that exports items to Iran for use by 'secret' Iranian government agencies." According to the memo, one of the operatives acted as a representative in the U.S. for an Iranian front company allegedly run by an individual associated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Although the section of the internal memorandum dealing with the Iranian challenge was heavily redacted, the parts addressed to EB-5 policy were not, and showed a sharp difference within the department on the conduct of the program.
HSI is part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a law enforcement agency; and U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) is the benefit-granting agency that runs EB-5 and many other visa-producing programs. The two agencies are independent of each other and are bureaucratic equals.
The ICE memorandum recommends that the visa fees in EB-5 be doubled (most visas are granted in return for $500,000 investments), that there be much more careful scrutiny of the aliens given these visas, and that the regional center portion of the EB-5 program, which allows the $500,000 investments in allegedly depressed areas in the United States, be repealed.
USCIS (and the Obama administration) successfully opposed all three of these commendable recommendations and the regional center program was given another three years to operate by a vote of Congress last year. As the only witness opposing that renewal at a Senate hearing two years ago, I would have been grateful for earlier publication of the hard-hitting ICE memo.
The undated, unsigned memorandum was presumably prepared in connection with the proposed renewal of the regional center program. Without that portion of the EB-5 program, the minimal alien investment for a visa would be $1 million, and hundreds of for-profit regional centers (i.e., middlemen entities) would be eliminated.
The ICE memorandum also singled out another of the "vulnerabilities" of the EB-5 program: the loose way that USCIS has managed the requirement that 10 additional jobs for citizens or green card holders be created with each investment, a point that many critics have made in the past.
It's been a rough week for those defending EB-5.