WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's nominee to become the No. 2 official in charge of the Homeland Security Department urged government employees to decide more quickly whether to approve applications from foreign investors in a Las Vegas casino despite concerns about the source of the investment funds, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The newspaper reported Friday that internal emails from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services workers show that agency director Alejandro Mayorkas, the nominee to become DHS's No. 2 official, questioned lower-level decisions to withhold expedited processing for at least 23 applications filed by Chinese and Thai citizens, who were trying to invest $11.5 million in the $415 million casino project under the federal EB-5 investor visa program.
The newspaper reported that in one email, an agency analyst cites "significant" criminal suspicions about the source of several of the investors' funds, including "highly suspicious money transfers" that are worth a closer agency review of the applications. The suspicions made the analyst concerned about national security, the email said, without offering specifics.
In a Jan. 25 email, Mayorkas told agency officials that the Commerce Department had already concluded that "the expedite criteria have been met" for the casino project.
Mayorkas is the subject of a DHS inspector general's investigation for his alleged role in helping a politically connected investment firm run by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother, Anthony Rodham, secure a visa for a Chinese executive.
Mayorkas has denied influencing any USCIS decisions.
"I have never, ever in my career exercised undue influence to influence the outcome of a case," he told lawmakers during a confirmation hearing last month. "I have never based my decisions on who brings a case but rather on the facts and the law."
DHS declined to comment Friday.
Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee boycotted the confirmation hearing and his nomination appears to be stalled.
The investor program allows foreigners to get visas if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for U.S. workers. The amount of the investment required depends on the type of project. Investors who are approved for the program can become legal permanent residents after two years and can later be eligible to become citizens.