By Drew MacKenzie
The Obama administration fast-tracked visa applications for two dozen foreign investors of a Las Vegas casino hotel after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his staff intervened, The Washington Times reported Wednesday.
The visas were approved despite Homeland Security officials initially denying the applications due to concerns about “suspicious financial activity” involving some of the Asian applicants.
The companies in the U.S. that will most benefit from the visa approvals have executives who are politically-connected and have been heavy Democratic donors in the past, says the Times.
According to the Times, Reid, a Nevada Democrat, personally put pressure on the top official at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Alejandro Mayorkas, who is President Barack Obama’s current nominee to be the No. 2 Homeland Security official. His appointment is due to be reviewed by the Senate on Wednesday.
The Asian investors behind a major renovation of the SLS Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, previously known as the historic Sahara Casino, are reportedly receiving the expedited EB-5 green card applications.
Although the Times reported that Reid’s staff was involved from the beginning of the applications, Homeland Security officials at first turned down requests by the SLS Hotel for the visas on the grounds that the building failed to meet the normal criteria for expedited review. The Homeland decision issued in December last year stated, “there is no appeal or reconsideration of this decision.”
According to the Times, the interference from Reid’s staff was so fierce that there was even an angry shouting match over the phone involving an immigration official.
“This one is going to be a major headache for us all because Mr. Reid’s office/staff is pushing hard and I just had a long yelling match on the phone,” USCIS Legislative Affairs official Miguel “Mike” Rodriguez warned in an email last year to Homeland Security Department officials.
The Times reported that Reid’s staff allegedly urged Homeland Security officials to change their minds on the applications, repeatedly saying that the hotel would lose its potential funding for its renovation if the USCIS didn’t expedite the visas.
Michael Vannozzi, a former top aide to Reid, wrote to Homeland Security, saying, “As you can imagine this project is pretty important to Southern Nevada. It will probably be the only ‘new’ property opening up on the Strip for some time, and if their $300 million senior lending facility from JP Morgan Chase expires because these visas aren’t processed expeditiously, it will be a huge setback for the project and the 8,600 jobs associated with it.”
The EB-5 visa gives permanent residency status, or green cards, to foreign nationals who invest $1 million, or $500,000 in high unemployment areas, creating at least 10 jobs.
The Times noted that Reid’s office and hotel officials did not respond to repeated requests from the newspaper for comment.
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