Luther Strange Owns Stake In Company Brokering Green Cards For Wealthy Foreigners

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, a Republican, has worked hard to burnish his credentials as an immigration hard-liner, but he also profits from an ownership in a company that recruits wealthy foreigners for a fraud-ridden immigrant visa program.

Strange, who is facing off against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a runoff election on Sept. 26, owns a 16 percent equity stake in Sunbelt EB-5 Regional Center, a company that connects wealthy overseas investors to development projects in the Southeast.

Strange’s connection to the company was first reported Monday by Alabama Today, which obtained a copy of his financial disclosure filing. Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler confirmed the disclosure Tuesday, revealing that Strange netted about $150,000 for for his role in recruiting investors for a Birmingham Baptist hospital expansion.

As the company’s name indicates, Sunbelt locates investors for the EB-5 visa program, which was created in 1990 as a way to entice wealthy overseas investors to pump money into job-creating projects in economically depressed areas of the U.S. In return for their investment — $500,000 or $1,000,000 depending on the location of the project — foreign nationals can receive a fast-tracked green card for themselves and their families.

Dominated by Chinese nationals, the EB-5 program has been particularly susceptible to massive fraud schemes. In the last two years, recruiters and project developers in California, Chicago, New York and Vermont have perpetrated eight- and nine-figure fraud cases.

Bipartisan critics say the EB-5 program, which was originally intended to boost economic development in needy communities, has morphed instead into a cash-for-green-cards arrangement that channels money into already prosperous areas. Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have gone so far as to co-sponsor a bill to kill the visa program.

Throughout the Alabama runoff campaign, Strange has touted his credentials as an immigration hawk, enthusiastically backing President Donald Trump’s tough immigration enforcement policies. Strange introduced legislation in May to force sanctuary cities to pay for the president’s proposed border wall.

“They can either follow the law, or fund the wall,” Strange said at the time, according to Alabama Today.

Despite the tough talk, Strange’s involvement with a company that brokers applications for a controversial visa program opens the door for opponents to question his intentions for immigration policy in Congress. Zeigler, who has thrown his support behind Moore, said Tuesday that Strange’s self-portrayal as an immigration hawk “is only talk.”

“He [Strange] did not put his money where his mouth is,” Zeigler said in a statement about Strange’s EB-5 connections. “Luther Strange is making big money off wealthy foreigners, enabling them and their families to come to America, get legal, and compete against American businesses.”

Strange’s campaign is pushing back against that characterization, pointing to the senator’s support of immigration reform bills such as the RAISE Act, which would cut green card numbers and implement merit-based immigrant visa applications.

“Luther agrees with the Trump administration that there are serious concerns over the EB-5 visa program, which is not being used as originally intended,” the campaign said in a statement to Alabama’s WHNT News 19. “It’s time for Congress to get to work on these issues. He looks forward to working hand-in-hand with the White House on legislation like the RAISE Act which would overhaul the program.”

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have endorsed Strange in the runoff election.

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