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Report: Immigration Program Stirs Security, Economic Concerns

FILE - A few employees are at work in April 2012 inside Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, S.D., which raised construction money through the federal EB-5 immigration program. The plant later went bankrupt.

A U.S. immigration investment program is coming under new scrutiny after an investigative report questioned the desirability of some who have used it to come to America.

The report by the ABC News program Nightline shed light on the national security implications of the EB-5 program, in which wealthy foreigners can get U.S. residency in exchange for $500,000 in investments.

Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News, said the investigation had found some people who used the program were suspected of involvement in child pornography, narcotics trafficking, fraud or espionage.

The report also said authorities were investigating whether Iran might have used the program as a means to infiltrate the United States as well as engage in smuggling and terrorism.

Charles Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa who raised national security concerns about the immigration program, has asked for further investigation. “If this program is being used to undercut our national security, it is something that's got to be exposed,” Grassley told ABC.

Reviews provide safety

But Ronald Klasko, a Philadelphia immigration attorney, argued that the EB-5 program was less likely to bring terrorists or criminals into the U.S. than any other immigration program.

“There are about seven or eight different levels of review within Citizenship and Immigration Services, within the Department of Homeland Security and within the U.S. Department of State that EB-5 investors have to go through," he said in an interview with VOA. "So you have the best chance of making certain that you are not bringing terrorists or criminals to the U.S., more chance of being certain on that for EB-5 than there is [for] any other U.S. immigration program."

The issue of undesirable immigrants isn’t the only complaint about the program.

The EB-5 visa for immigrant investors was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 to help stimulate the U.S. economy. The program allows foreign investors to obtain U.S. permanent residency, spouse and unmarried children under 21 included, if they invest $500,000 in targeted employment areas that will create at least 10 full-time jobs.

Wrong on principle

But David North of the Center for Immigration Studies said he strongly opposed the link between "green cards" (which attest to an immigrant's permanent resident status) and large sums of money.

“First, as a matter of principle, the United States and no other countries should sell visas. Secondly, lots of people who do the buying, the investors are being cheated. That is inappropriate. That is a blight on the United States if we allow that sort of thing to go on," he said.

But others called the program is a win-win-win situation. Peter Joseph, executive director of Invest in the USA, said the program benefited foreign investors, American workers and the economy.

“The investor is able to get immigration benefits based on their investment," he said. "The American economy benefits from that investment, watching it travel through different businesses that grow as a result. And of course [there is] the American worker who now is able to be employed, thanks to that capital investment."

Joseph said that since its inception, the EB-5 program had created 57,000 full-time employment opportunities and that the U.S. economy had received $8.6 billion in benefits.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.