While Donald Trump says America “loses” to China, his family uses the U.S. immigration system to collect millions of dollars from Chinese nationals seeking American visas.
The Kushner Companies, headed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is building Trump Bay Street, a 50-story luxury apartment building in Jersey City. It adjoins the high-rise Trump Plaza Residence.
About a quarter of the tower’s funding — $50 million — comes via the federal EB-5 investor-visa program, which grants U.S. visas to mainly Chinese investors.
Watchdog.org reported last year that EB-5 poses “significant national security risks”
The Government Accountability Office found last year that many EB-5 applications contained a high risk of fraud and counterfeit documentation. The State Department said there is “no reliable method to verify the source of the funds of petitioners.”
Though Trump has built few buildings in the past two decades, developers using his name pay a licensing fee to the billionaire businessman. Kushner spokeswoman Risa Heller told Bloomberg News that Bay Street’s EB-5 money was “raised lawfully by the US Immigration Fund.”
“This program enabled a development that created hundreds of new jobs in an area with employment needs,” Heller said.
Shae Armstrong, a Texas attorney knowledgeable about EB-5, called Trump Bay Street “another high-profile example of EB-5 being used in a real-estate development project as a cheaper, alternative financing strategy.”
Designed to aid economically depressed rural regions, EB-5 permits foreign nationals to invest $500,000 to receive U.S. green cards, instead of the $1 million buy-in required elsewhere. Watchdog and the Wall Street Journal reported last year that urban developers creatively conjoin census tracts to meet the lower investment threshold.
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, condemned the urban gerrymandering. Since EB-5 visas are capped at about 10,000 a year, the senators say downtown developers are siphoning funds – and jobs – from rural zones.
“Once again, EB-5 usage does not result in any real net economic impacts to the area,” Armstrong said.
A Trump spokeswoman said, “This was a highly successful license deal, but he is not a partner in the financing of the development.” Trump’s office did not respond to questions about EB-5.
EB-5 sustained a political black eye last year when the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged it bowed to pressure from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to override department procedures to approve 230 visa applications that funded the SLS Hotel-Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the nonpartisan Federation for American Immigration Reform, calls EB-5 “a scheme for wealthy people to buy their way into the country.”
On the receiving end, Mehlman said the program is a “source of interest-free money for wealthy people who carry a lot of clout in Washington.”
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Kenricward.