Whistle-blower: Govt Skimps on Background Checks for Green Cards

Monday, 28 Oct 2013 01:48 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is skimping on its background checks into companies wanting green cards for high-profile foreign investors, claims a Department of Homeland Security whistle-blower.

The agency, which falls under Homeland Security, came under scrutiny after reports that its director, Alejandro Mayorkas, intervened personally to expedite applications from an electric-car company affiliated with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, The Washington Times reports.

The whistle-blower, an analyst in the department's citizenship services division, reported tracking more than 30 applications filed from U.S. companies that wanted to participate in the green-card program. Their average approval time was less than a week, rather than the weeks or even months such background checks should take.

The analyst, whose identity was protected by The Washington Times, has in the past conducted audits for Fortune 500 firms, as well as cabinet-level federal agencies, and filed his concerns with the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general in May 2012, before resigning a month later.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not comment on specific cases, but said it has made an effort to strengthen its division through a Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate, said spokesman Christopher S. Bentley.

The EB-5 visa program was created by Congress in 1990 to attract investors who will spend at least a half-million dollars in a new U.S. business.

Foreign investments go through "regional centers" which bundle the investments into qualifying new businesses. Those investors can apply for the EB-5 visa and claim a conditional green card. After two years, the conditions are removed if the business investment works out.

In all, 7,641 EB-5 visas were issued in 2012, with more than 75 percent going to Chinese investors and their families, government figures show, raising security concerns in Washington.

Industry observers claim the EB-5 program is vulnerable to abuse because regional centers do not have to disclose information concerning who controls them or how they raise funds, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The whistle-blower claimed he saw applications from high-tech startups, real estate firms, and several casinos, all approved quickly without much investigation.

"If I said I’m going to build paperweights that look like a bong, they’d approve it," he said.

McAuliffe had helped found a company, Green Tech Automotive, shortly after he lost the Democratic nomination for governor back in 2009. Green Tech lined up 81 foreign investors through a sister company, Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC, run by Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The company fell short of its projections, however, and eventually, McAuliffe resigned from his position as Green Tech chairman. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Green Tech's use of the visa program.

The whistle-blower said Green Tech's business plan was approved on a fast track, despite being flagged for its connection to Rodham and McAuliffe.

Related Stories:
Washington Post: McAuliffe's GreenTech Venture Deserves Scrutiny
Report: Immigration Program for Wealthy Under Scrutiny



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