Politics

Obama Official, Clinton Allies Also Exploited Visa Program Used By Kushner Companies

PHOTO: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

A controversial U.S. visa program was the basis of an ethics investigation into a former Obama administration official and Clinton family confidants long before it became the center of a controversy involving the Kushner Companies.

The EB-5 program again came under scrutiny Saturday, following reports about how relatives of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, are recruiting Chinese citizens to invest in the Kushner family’s real estate development firm. (RELATED: Report: Kushner Family Touts Trump Connection When Pushing Investor Visas In China)

But Democratic insiders abused the so-called “investor visa” program two years before the Kushner family established its marital connection to the White House.

In one case, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Obama administration intervened to fast track investor visa applications on behalf of Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton fundraiser and the current governor of Virginia, and Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother.

A 2015 report from the DHS Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) said that Alejandro Mayorkas personally ordered reviews of visa applicants who wanted to invest in electric car company GreenTech Automotive where McAuliffe was then serving as chairman. Anthony Rodham was channeling foreign investments for the company while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, the New York Times reported. (RELATED: ‘They’re Struggling’: Terry McAuliffe’s Scandal-Ridden Electric Car Company Is In Trouble)

The DHS-OIG report said Mayorkas’ conduct created “an appearance of favoritism and special access” and generated “significant resentment” among employees of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency responsible for approving EB-5 visas.

Investigators found in three separate cases Mayorkas pressured USCIS employees to make favorable determinations on investor visa applications that wouldn’t normally have been approved.

“But for Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention, the matter would have been decided differently,” the report said.

The EB-5 visa program, created in 1990, is a way for foreign nationals to gain permanent residence and eventually U.S. citizenship if they invest a minimum of $500,000 in job-creating projects in places with high unemployment. Critics say it has become a way for wealthy foreigners to buy U.S. citizenship while investing in projects that have dubious job-creation value or are located in already thriving areas.

Chinese investors account for more than 80 percent of EB-5 visas issued every year, many of them for investments in luxury real estate developments in New York and prosperous West Coast cities.

Trump signed an emergency spending bill Friday that maintains the current EB-5 structure through September, but lawmakers have proposed raising the investment minimums or letting the program expire altogether the next time it comes up for review. (RELATED: Wealthy Chinese Moving Money To US Before Congress Hikes Visa Minimum)

Several investor visa sponsor in recent years have used the program to perpetrate massive fraud schemes. Federal investigators raided a California company in April for allegedly raising $50 million from Chinese investors and using the funds to buy residential real estate and personal luxury items.

In the largest of the EB-5 fraud cases, the owners of Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont allegedly embezzled $200 million of the $350 million they had raised from foreign investors hoping to receive green cards through investing in resort expansion projects.

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