ABC reports on suspicious visas being fast-tracked -- and the role played by the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid. First, the report explains the program:
Officials overseeing a federal program that offers an immigration short-cut to wealthy foreign investors have ignored pointed warnings from federal agents and approved visas for some immigrants suspected of having committed fraud, money laundering, and even one applicant with alleged ties to a child porn website, an ABC News investigation has found. The shortcomings prompted concerns within the Department of Homeland Security that the boutique immigration program would be exploited by terrorists, according to internal documents obtained by ABC News.
“It is shocking,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican. “Particularly when you have F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies that are saying national security could be compromised or is being compromised -- that's enough for us to be concerned.”
Five different Homeland Security whistleblowers spoke with ABC News about a range of cases where visas were approved despite numerous red flags. They said objections were often ignored because the immigration program is so popular within the Obama Administration and with members of Congress from both parties. Known as the EB-5 visa program, foreigners who are willing to invest $500,000 in an American business can jump to the front of the line and obtain legal status to live in the U.S. for two years. If the investment is shown to create at least 10 jobs, the investors can receive a “Green Card” -- permanent residency.
And only later, buried in the story, is Reid's involvement explained:
In recent years, as the program has grown dramatically in popularity, it has sparked controversy.
In 2013, then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was accused by political opponents of trying to prod federal officials to approve visas for investors in an electric vehicle start-up venture he ran. He denied that he sought undue influence. In 2014, questions about an EB-5 investment scheme in South Dakota became grist for political ads targeting then-U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds, who was attacked for his role in oversight of investment projects while he was governor. Rounds called the attacks political and "inaccurate" and "defamatory."
Questions about the SLS Hotel project in Las Vegas first gained attention when an article in The Washington Times revealed that Homeland Security expedited the processing of investor visas after Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D) and his staff began prodding the department to move faster. Reid aides said their push to eliminate longstanding bureaucratic hurdles with the program and was aimed at creating local jobs.
But in a series of interviews, Homeland Security whistleblowers who spoke with ABC News on the condition they not be identified said their greatest concern was that political pressure to expedite the review process has led officials to grant visas to applicants who had significant red flags in their backgrounds.
When the SLS Hotel chain sought to fund construction of a hotel on the Las Vegas strip using foreign investors, Reid and his aides urged immigration officials to speed up their review of the visa applicants, internal emails show. Each visa applicant approval meant another $500,000 could flow into the construction budget, and the developers were anticipating as much as $200 million from foreign investors.
Michael Vannozzi, then a top aide to the senator, wrote to say that a failure by immigration officials to push through approvals could cause the project’s major investor, JP Morgan Chase, to back out. Emails show Reid personally appealed to the then-head of USCIS, Alijandro N. Mayorkas, to give the matter his attention. Mayorkas, who has since been promoted to deputy secretary, responded to the request by saying he would take “a fresh look” at the issue.