Sen. Chuck Grassley, the judiciary committee chairman and longtime advocate for overhauling the nation's visa programs, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to share concerns about what was said in the Kushner Companies pitch in China.
In an email released Thursday, the Iowa Republican specifically cited comments made by the White House adviser's sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, about the EB-5 visa -- a program that offers foreigners the ability to apply for green cards if they make qualifying investments in US projects.
"In her speech, Ms. Meyer touted the EB-5 'golden visa,' ... and alluded to her brother Jared Kushner's White House position in a manner that some say was improperly suggestive," Grassley wrote
. "One of Ms. Meyer's colleagues urged attendees to 'invest early, and you will invest under the old rules.'"
Grassley went on to note that EB-5 visas typically have a two-year waiting period, expressing worry that "Ms. Meyer's statements ... could seem to imply that foreign nationals who invest with the Kushner Company will receive special treatment and expedited approval."
He called on Kelly to declare that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the government agency that manages visa programs, would not give any preferential treatment.
Also at issue is an ongoing process started under the Obama administration to raise the bar for receiving green cards under the EB-5 program.
DHS has proposed changes
, including raising the minimum required investment to $1.35 million and tightening the qualifications for a "Targeted Employment Area," to ensure that such designations are reserved for areas that actually would benefit high unemployment areas.
The comment period of the process ended April 11 with 290 comments. US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of DHS, has only said that it is reviewing the comments before finalizing the process when asked by CNN if it would see through the Obama-era effort.
Grassley asked Kelly to confirm he would "expeditiously" move forward on the rulemaking.
"The American people are relying on you to prevent fraud, promote security, and protect the homeland," Grassley wrote. "DHS's efforts in implementing new regulations to that effect are integral to strengthening program integrity and benefiting the US economy. I strongly support the proposed regulations, and support the Trump administration's efforts to move forward with implementing these necessary changes in an open, and transparent manner."
The presentation in China by Kushner Companies was seeking investment for a New Jersey development. The company, run by the family of Trump's son-in-law, has in the past used EB-5 money to fund $50 million, or one-quarter, of another New Jersey project branded Trump Bay Street.
Kushner's attorney said he has divested his interests in the project that was discussed in China and will recuse himself from matters concerning EB-5 in the administration. The Kushner family has apologized for seeming to imply a connection between Jared Kushner's White House role and the company.
Earlier this week, the White House said in a statement that it was "evaluating" EB-5 reform with members of Congress and "exploring the possibility of raising the price of the visa to further bring the program in line with its intent."