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Whistleblower Reveals National Security Concerns in Green Card Program for Wealthy Foreigners

Jun 16, 2015

In testimony last week on Capitol Hill, a special agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement exposed serious national security concerns in a controversial immigration program that has been a route to Green Cards for wealthy foreigners.

Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson said her Homeland Security investigation uncovered visa applicants from China, Russia, Pakistan, and Malaysia who had been approved in as little as 16 days, even though their applications "lacked basic necessary law enforcement" screening, ABC News reports. "During the course of my investigation it became very clear that the EB-5 program has serious security challenges," Johnson said.

The program is known by the visa designation EB-5. It was designed to create thousands of jobs by offering temporary residency and eventually Green Cards to foreigners who agree to invest more than $500,000 in approved American ventures. But an ABC News investigation found that the EB-5 program is attracting many who seek to sidestep the scrutiny of the traditional immigration process.

Johnson testified at U.S. Senate hearing convened to bring attention to the plight of federal officials who have faced retaliation after reporting wrongdoing in their agencies. "After disclosing gross mismanagement, waste and fraud that threatened the general public's safety, National Security Risks and public corruption surrounding an EB-5 project, I was subjected to a significant amount of harassment and retaliation," Johnson said. Johnson told senators she was removed from the investigation and in 2013 the investigation was shut down, according to ABC News.

ABC News has aired a series of stories this year about the controversial visa program. The network conducted extensive interviews with five whistleblowers. ABC's investigation uncovered records showing foreign applicants had obtained EB-5 visas despite allegations of such crimes as fraud, money laundering, and forgery. One Iranian businessman, for example, obtained recertification to participate in the program while under investigation for smuggling.

The most serious concerns raised by whistleblowers centered on national security. Internal records reveal that officials inside the Department of Homeland Security had begun looking into the possibility that the EB-5 program was "abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States." ABC News obtained documents that showed U.S officials had investigated a southern California shipping company, American Logistics International, and its Iranian-born owner, Alireza Mahdavi, for possible illegal shipments to Iran. While the investigation was underway, the company was re-certified by U.S. immigration officials as an EB-5 regional center, which allows it to recruit foreign investors with the promise of a visa, and potentially, a Green Card. The company has raised millions of dollars from foreign investors, many from Iran.

Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has reviewed cases involving EB-5 regional centers around the country. Grassley said he is concerned that the program has become a magnet for people suspected of serious crimes, and even espionage and terrorism, according to ABC News. Grassley said, "We want jobs in America. But we want the people coming to American [to] be legitimate business people, not coming here with other motives like compromising our national security or to do espionage against the United States as a country or against our corporations."

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