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Obama's immigration nominee faces investor-visa landmines

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Hard questions about a controversial investor-visa program await President Barack Obama’s choice to head the embattled U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Leon Rodriguez was tabbed last December to lead the agency that oversees the EB-5 program, which grants green cards to foreign nationals who invest $500,000 to $1 million in select U.S. companies.

Former USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas is under investigation by DHS’ Office of Inspector General for his handling of EB-5 applications.

Rodriguez is controversial in his own right.

Bowing to united Republican opposition in 2011, the White House withdrew Rodriguez’s nomination to direct the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor.

Though the former chief of staff at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department oversaw immigration work, immigration specialists say they know little or nothing about him.

Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration group, said her organization did not have enough information on Rodriguez to form an opinion.

Kristen Wiliamson, spokeswoman at the enforcement-oriented Federation for American Immigration Reform, told

“I’d be concerned that he didn’t receive a hearing for the Department of Labor nomination because he was considered controversial” at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he plans to pepper Rodriguez with the same EB-5 concerns he posed to Mayorkas.

Citing a Homeland Security Investigations memo, Grassley said another federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, identified key vulnerabilities in EB-5 visas:

1) Export of sensitive technology/economic espionage.
2) Use by foreign government agents/espionage.
3) Use by terrorists.
4) Investment fraud by regional center.
5) Investment fraud by investors.
6) Fraud conspiracies by investors and regional center.
7) Illicit finance/money laundering.

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