Congressional candidates slam investor-visa ‘boondoggle’

‘CRONY BOONDOGGLE’: Dave Brat says the EB-5 immigration program is out of control. The Virginia professor is challenging House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June 10 GOP primary.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. – Two Republican congressional candidates in Virginia say the federal investor-visa program is “ripe with abuse” and that it’s time for a House cleaning.

“It’s a total crony boondoggle,” Dave Brat said of the EB-5 immigration program.

The Randolph-Macon College economics professor is challenging House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 7th Congressional District primary on June 10.

Alluding to investigations of EB-5 “regional centers” in Virginia, Illinois, South Dakota and Kansas, Brat said: “At every turn, people who come up with new gimmicks and shortcuts are found out to engage in crony capitalism.”

“This is exactly why we need a return to free markets,” he told Watchdog.org.

TERROR LINK: Rob Wasinger notes that a Homeland Security investigation found EB-5 was vulnerable to use by Iranian terrorists.

Rob Wasinger, vying against front-running Republican Barbara Comstock to succeed Rep. Frank Wolf in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, takes an equally dim view of the government-approved regional centers collecting billions of dollars from foreign investors seeking a path to citizenship.

“EB-5 is ripe with abuse,” he charged. “It only takes money and (a foreign national) is in. It’s pay to play, and not a lot of safeguards to it.”

“A memo from Homeland Security Investigations recently raised concerns that the visa program could be ‘abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States’ and ‘facilitate terrorism,’” Wasinger added.

Cantor has sent mixed signals on EB-5, which enables foreign nationals to receive U.S. green cards in exchange for investing $500,000 in targeted business enterprises.

The seven-term congressman joined other House members in extending the program last year. The vote was 412-3.

But during the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Cantor called on Terry McAuliffe to explain issues surrounding the Democrat’s GreenTech Automotive and its use of EB-5 funding.

“With two federal investigations under way into GreenTech Automotive, Terry McAuliffe must come forward and address the serious concerns raised,” Cantor said in a statement released by Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign.

“While the EB-5 program has been helpful in creating new jobs, any inappropriate use … must be fully examined and explained,” Cantor’s statement added.

Neither Cantor nor Comstock replied to Watchdog’s requests for comment.

Brat said the investor-visa program is fundamentally flawed.

“The feds aren’t doing their job, and cronies are working this totally opaque system,” he charged. “The logical solution would be to move it to the states. The feds have no business being involved in this.”

If Wasinger were elected to Congress, he said he would “launch an investigation, and perhaps suspend EB-5 until the investigation is complete.”

Michael Petrucelli, a former acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the EB-5 program without disclosing details about regional centers, said Congress should enact three reforms immediately:

1. Raise the qualification bar for EB-5 money handlers.

“To receive regional center approval, applicants should be able to demonstrate that they have the capacity to deliver real projects (and) have an established track record of successful projects in the industry area they serve,” Petrucelli said.

2. Require that all existing and future EB-5 regional centers be fully compliant with applicable U.S. securities law and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulation.

3. Leave Targeted Employment Area designations with the individual states. (A TEA enables foreign nationals to qualify for green cards with an investment of $500,000 instead of $1 million.)

Agreeing with Brat’s point about federalism, Petrucelli said, “State and local governments are better positioned to know the situation on the ground than a federal agency.”

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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