Former U.S. Rep. Joe Wyatt, a Texas Democrat, has a great line that exposes the inner workings of Congress. Wyatt would tell his staff to give him the truth and “he would do the lying.” Netflix viewers can watch Wyatt on “Dirty Money,” season two, in the episode titled “Point Comfort” that analyzes the Taiwanese Formosa Plastics plant and its catastrophic environmental effect on the local Victoria community.
Enter Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham who may have taken a page from Wyatt’s playbook about his EB-5 proposal. Graham vehemently denies that he wants to insert a provision into the coronavirus stimulus bill that would expand the EB-5 investor visa from its existing 10,000 annual cap to 75,000. Critics of EB-5, and there are many, skeptically but nonetheless accurately call the visa a citizenship-for-sale vehicle because, in exchange for $900,000, foreign nationals, predominantly Chinese, South Korean and Taiwanese, plus their families, will be given permanent residency. Graham’s proposal is a double whammy because it would half the $900,000 investment to $450,000, and increase by more than seven-fold the number of visas issued.
On national television, Graham insisted that he hadn’t proposed an EB-5 increase, and called the report “absolute garbage.” Graham: “I haven’t talked to anybody on the planet, much less the Trump administration, about putting EB-5 on the coronavirus bill.” Responding to Graham’s denial, Politico, which originally broke the story, said that it “stands by its reporting.”
Interestingly, Graham added in the televised interview that, despite its long, uninterrupted history of fraud and abuse, both he and President Trump support the EB-5. Graham’s Senate Judiciary chair predecessor, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), called the EB-5 corrupt, and unsuccessfully pushed for it to be eliminated. Even the pro-immigration, anti-Trump Washington Post identified the EB-5 as a “corruption-prone visa program.”
Here are two things to consider when evaluating who may or may not be telling the truth. First, a 2016, pre-November election CNN Business story revealed that Jared Kushner, son-in-law of then-candidate Trump, used EB-5 funding to raise $50 million from Chinese investors to help build the Jersey City, New Jersey, luxury Trump Bay Street property. Candidate Trump licensed his name to Kushner Properties. Kushner, in his White House senior advisor capacity, is currently pushing hard for a large increase in skilled immigration which would include significant immigrant increases for Chinese H-1B visa holders.
Second, Graham who touts himself as one of President Trump’s strongest congressional allies, is no friend to immigration restrictionists. Graham has a poor immigration voting record. Along with California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, he ranks at the bottom of the upper chamber’s 100 lawmakers on blocking unnecessary visas.
The Immigration Act of 1990 created the EB-5 visa. Immigration lawyers and the expansion lobby promptly promoted the visa as a method to enable foreign investment to stimulate economies in the nation’s distressed regions.
As noble as that concept sounds, the EB-5 soon veered off course. See Trump Bay Street property above. And earlier this year, Johnson Fang scammed 17 Chinese EB-5 investors out of $10 million when his proposed Hawaii City Plaza and Hawaii Ocean Plaza never saw the light of day. By no one’s definition is Hawaii a distressed area. In fact, the last thing that overdeveloped Hawaii needs is more construction. The defrauded investors said that they hoped to secure Green Cards through their investment. Their lawyer Wen Sheng Gao theorized that the funds may have been misappropriated.
As of this writing, the coronavirus legislation is hung up in Congress, and the initial draft didn’t include Graham’s EB-5 suggestion. But increasing the EB-5 cap and at the same time cutting by half the visa’s minimum investment provide a disturbing insight into Graham’s mindset which is, at least on some immigration issues, akin to the opinions that the most radical congressional Democrats hold.