Testifying last week at a Senate hearing, a special agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement exposed serious national security concerns in a controversial immigration program that provides a route to Green Cards for wealthy foreigners.
Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson told the Senate panel that her Homeland Security investigation uncovered visa applications that had been approved in as little as 16 days, even though the applications “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening, ABC News reports. Johnson said, “During the course of my investigation it became very clear that the EB-5 program has serious security challenges.”
The Senate hearing was convened to bring attention to the plight of federal officials who have faced retaliation when they report wrongdoing in their agencies. Johnson said she herself was subjected to a “significant amount of harassment and retaliation,” 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.” Johnson told senators she was removed from the investigation and in 2013 the investigation was shut down, according to ABC News.
The EB-5 program, known by its visa designation, was designed to create thousands of jobs by offering temporary residence and eventually Green Cards—permanent residence—to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in approved American ventures. But an ABC News investigation found that the EB-5 program is attracting many wealthy individuals who see it as a way to sidestep the scrutiny involved in the traditional immigration process.
ABC News conducted extensive interviews with five whistleblowers for its stories about the visa program. ABC’s investigation uncovered records showing foreign applicants had been granted EB-5 visas despite allegations of fraud, money laundering, forgery, and other crimes. One Iranian businessman, for example, obtained re-certification to participate in the program while under investigation for smuggling.
The whistleblowers raised serious concerns about national security. Internal records from Homeland Security reveal that officials inside the department were looking into the possibility that the EB-5 program was “abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States.” Documents obtained by ABC News show that officials had investigated American Logistics International, a southern California shipping company, and its Iranian-born owner, Alireza Mahdavi. The company was suspected of making illegal shipments to Iran. While the investigation was still underway, the company was re-certified by as an EB-5 regional center. As a regional center, American Logistics International is allowed 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, ABC News reports.
Senator Charles Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is concerned that the EB-5 program has become a magnet for people suspected of serious crimes, and even espionage and terrorism. 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.”