“Sen. Reid believes it is his job to do all he can to promote economic growth and development in the state, and he makes no apologies for helping to bring jobs to Nevada,” spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said.
Hotel officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The emergence of the documents comes at a sensitive time for the Obama administration and Mr. Mayorkas, whose nomination to be deputy secretary of DHS is being considered Wednesday by a Senate committee.
Mr. Mayorkas and his agency are already under investigation for visa application decisions made involving an electric car company associated with Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic fundraiser and now the governor-elect of Virginia.
Officials say the EB-5 program, created by Congress in 1990, is designed to attract investors willing to risk capital in ventures that will create jobs in the United States. Would-be entrepreneurs who invest at least $500,000 in a new U.S. business can apply.
The citizenship services agency says the goal of the program is to “stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.”
Almost all foreign investments in the EB-5 program are channeled through special companies called “regional centers.” Once their business plan is approved by immigration officials, the companies bundle investments into qualifying new businesses. Investors then can apply for an EB-5 visa, and, if approved, can claim a conditional green card immediately upon entry to the United States. After two years, the conditions are removed if the investment has created the jobs or looks likely to.
The emails referencing Mr. Reid’s intervention could increase concerns that the worker visa program has been exploited by political pressures.
“It’s not one party’s monopoly, but it’s kind of inherently worrisome,” said David North, a policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for less immigration into the U.S. “There certainly are political pressures to cut short the review process.”
Executives for the two main companies involved in the hotel project have donated more than $127,000 to political causes over the last three elections, mostly to Democrats, Federal Election Commission records show.
Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, wrote a letter on the matter to USCIS California Service Center on December 19, 2012.
“I strongly encourage you to consider this request and the impact the project will have on Nevada’s economy,” he wrote, under the assumption that the petitions were still being processed. “Time is of the essence and advancing Nevada’s economy would be strongly supported by this project.”
Mr. Heller’s office said there were no subsequent conversations with USCIS or DHS.
According to the plan, the project is estimated to create 8,600 jobs.
Peter Joseph, executive director of the Association to Invest in the USA (IIUSA), a membership organization representing 107 federally designated EB-5 Regional Centers across the country, pointed out that USCIS is dealing with a backlog of about 7,000 applications — proof that they’re employing careful scrutiny.