Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the target of an ethics and conflict-of-interest complaint over his involvement in a visa-investor venture.
The complaint, filed by the nonprofit activist group Cause of Action, asserts that Reid intervened with top immigration officials to benefit EB-5 visa seekers. The applicants were law clients of Reid's son.
Among the officials contacted by Reid was Alejandro Mayorkas, then director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Sen. Reid's efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of these applications, as well as the subsequent securing of millions of dollars in foreign and domestic funds for the (Las Vegas) SLS Hotel & Casino and American Dream Fund EB-5 Regional Center -- both of which are major contributors to the Democratic Party,” Cause of Action Executive Director Daniel Epstein wrote.
Mayorkas, recently confirmed by the Senate to be deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, remains under investigation by the DHS inspector general's office over his handling of EB-5 cases.
The EB-5 program enables foreign nationals to receive green cards in exchange for $500,000 to $1 million investments in participating U.S. companies.
Cause of Action's letter references a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo detailing how the EB-5 program “inherently creates an opportunity for fraud.”
Watchdog.org reported last year that Mayorkas met with GreenTech Automotive Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who sought EB-5 approvals for his electric car company. GreenTech's EB-5 regional center, Gulf Coast Funds Management, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
McAuliffe, who was elected governor of Virginia in November, stepped down from the company and pledged to divest his GreenTech stock holdings. Gulf Coast's president is Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Clinton.
Michael Gibson, managing director of USAdvisors.org, which consults on EB-5 projects, said he did not find Cause of Action’s claims about Reid “surprising or shocking.”
“It seems like business as usual for D.C.,” he told Watchdog.
“I can understand the users’ and politicians’ frustration with USCIS. They have been slow to add resources to alleviate the backlog, which has been persistent for several years now,” he said.
“What is unfortunate is that it appears that certain groups who are politically connected appear to have a strong influence on the decision making within the agency, especially with the director, and that is not fair to the others who have been waiting longer but are less politically connected.”
Epstein maintains that Reid went beyond the U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct.
“Urging the expedited approval of a specific set of visa applications that are flagged for ‘suspicious financial activity’ goes beyond ‘urg(ing) prompt consideration,’” stated the complaint filed with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Neither Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., nor Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who head the ethics panel, have responded to Cause of Action's request for an investigation.
Reid's office did not reply to Watchdog's request for comment.Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.