The American dream, for sale - Page 4

Thousands of hard-working immigrants are getting deported every month. But unregulated private companies are offering a deal: for $500,000, you can get a green card.


"I'm not persuaded this stuff adds up."

Assumptions inherent in the models are not commonly verified, he added, and often fail to calculate the net effect of an investment, like when a new firm crowds out existing firms.

Tom Henderson, who's setting up an EB-5 center in Oakland, told us the indirect jobs model "is all smoke and mirrors — it's bullshit" (see sidebar).

Still, Irazabal says, "numbers don't lie." USCIS checks that business plan and the job creation strategy is "viable, can be reproduced, and is practical. We have people whose area of specialty is looking at this."

To make things more complicated, most EB-5 money isn't going into creating goods or services. It's going into real estate development. And unlike a factory, a new building by itself creates barely any direct jobs.

It may have the opposite effect. High-end office development often displaces existing businesses, particularly industrial ones. And those lost jobs aren't taken into account.


Mao said his No. 1 reason for seeking residency in the United States is the prospect of better education for his two sons, 5 and 17.

It's ironic. Mao's American Dream for his children is no different from the dreams of immigrants like Shing Ma "Steve" Li, a 20-year-old nursing student in San Francisco.

Li has lived in San Francisco since he was 12. speaks Cantonese, English, French and Spanish. He was arrested Sept. 15, 2010 by ICE agents, held in a detention center for two months, and threatened with deportation because his parents lacked the proper documentation.

Li, like tens of thousands of others, has talent and education and a lot to offer the United States. But he doesn't have $500,000.

Immigration activists like Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, aren't against EB-5 just because its immigrants are privileged. "We don't believe there are good immigrants or bad immigrants when it comes to folks who contribute to this nation," he said.

But, he added, "We are looking for equity in our immigration system."

Immigrant-rights activists properly support almost any program that helps open the doors, particularly at a time when the right-wing is exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment. But it seems unfair that one class of immigrants, the ones with large sums of extra money to invest, are getting recruited to come to the U.S. while a much larger group — including people who have lived here for years, worked hard, built businesses and contributed to the nation — is being shown the exit door.

Francisco Ugarte, an attorney with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, made the point: "We disagree with legal standards that make it easier for rich people to immigrate than poor people.

"Our legal system is designed to protect the rich and powerful," he added. "People who are coming out of necessity have a much harder time immigrating than wealthy people looking to move."

"It is," he added, indicative of a broken immigration system." *


Tom Henderson's clients call San Francisco jiou jin shan, meaning "old gold mountain" in Mandarin and referring to the Gold Rush era impression that San Francisco must be awash in opportunity.

His soon-to-be-unveiled San Francisco Regional center is still waiting on final government approval, but Henderson has already been lining up investors to participate in the program.

He spends a third of his year in China and has done business there for decades.


This ("rich peoples green card") has been around for a long time. It used to be that you had to invest $1M to qualify; but that has been reduced to $500K for "distressed areas". Why shouldn't the rich get a Groupon deal on immigration? Don't you know that the rich run the world, and we just play, I mean, slave, in it?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 7:57 am

Every nation has a program like this. In some countries, just five or ten thousand dollars will get you citizenship, and even with any name you want!

I can't believe that any so-called professional journalist isn't aware these types of inducements aren't ubiquitous.

Posted by Wally on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 8:20 am

It's been around a while, but now it's really starting to boom, esp in the Bay Area -- and it's ironic, is it not, that this happens at a time when the US is deportng record numbers of people who also contribute -- and quite possibly contribute more -- to the economy?

Posted by tim on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

You mean maybe we want immigrants who contribute more to the economy?

It's always been that way. H visa's and Green Cards have always been issued to those with favored and specialized skills that are needed here. Of course. Again, every nation does that.

Only the SFBG would prefer minimum wage illegals to successful professionals.

Posted by Wally on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

H1-B visas are intended to drive down tech wages and have done so very well while making it more difficult for American techs to compete for work against those whose alternative is returning to subcontinental poverty.

Lowering wages are not how we get to a progressive society.


Posted by marcos on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

they are already too high by standards of international competitiveness.

If American workers are paid too much, and it seems they are, then that differential will be arbitraged away either by:

1) Inbound immigration
2) Outsourcing
3) Devaluation of the US dollar

Most likely, all three at the same time, until we reach parity.

The invisible hand trumps social engineering every time.

Posted by Wally on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

Government protectionism is the traditional way that a popular government puts its citizens first. Everything else is just speculative theory that has run the economy off the cliff in a way that makes the 1970s look like the 1950's.

Please, you all need to put this before the voters under the banner "Sweatshop jobs for all!"


Posted by marcos on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

As noted this is:

A. Not new
B. Hardly unique to the US

Immigration shouldn't be "first come first served." It should be based on a lot of different factors including possessing a desirable skill set and education. And yes, the ability to sustain oneself and invest in needed areas of the US economy should also be a factor in certain cases.

And FYI: having $500,000 to invest may be the product of a lifetime of work for someone. It doesn't make them "rich."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

I spent a couple of years debating the immigration issue on various blogs. One thing that has always troubled me greatly is that this issue tends to bring out the very worst in people, particularly those who think nothing of dehumanizing entire groups of people based on a faulty perception of the perceived race or class of the "alien other".

We don't like to admit it, but this perception of race and class generally goes hand in hand in, since the darker and poorer you are, the less likely you are to fall into the "good immigrant" category.

Maegan "La Mala" Ortiz does a brilliant job of illustrating this meme in her blog Vivir Latina. The narrative goes like this~

“Good” immigrants, according to the politicos and the mainstream media that parrots them, are the ones who follow the laws, and when they don’t face the consequences, in the form of raids, separation from families, deportation, incarceration and fear. “Good” immigrants work hard and don’t make too much noise. They don’t have more children then they can afford and they don’t live on welfare. They speak English and study hard and get good grades and try to go to college. Within this context there are bills. Bills so that “good” immigrants and their children can go to college and pay in-state rates (like the DREAM Act)."

"But in order to have good you must have bad and it’s too easy for any person once deemed good to fall into the other category. The “bad” immigrants, like the ones portrayed in the ad above, test the compassion of people. They look like gang bangers and obviously cannot assimilate or fit in. The obviously “bad” ones commit horrible crimes only against “white” like rape and murder (because whites apparently don’t do things like that). More minor crimes aren’t placed in context like say poverty, racism or global policies."

Please read that last sentence again because it is key.

Posted by Lisa Pelletier on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

The far right, and the far left, both of whom make everything about race, to the point of tedium.

I always love your quoting fellow sour leftists.

I enjoy looking them up and reading the conspiracies theories and bitter complaints.

Posted by meatlock on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

Anybody who is basically literate and doesn't have a recent criminal record should be able to contribute to this country; let them in.

If they have $500K of real money to show, by all means roll out a (slightly tattered) red carpet. Our gain, their country's loss.

Posted by Letmypeoplefree on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 8:42 am


Posted by Guest Michael on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 9:24 am

Chinese investors beware. Example: Tom Henderson was a fish salesman for 30 years with no experience in job creation. He's running around town with his 'quirky' persona (read: he seems to piss off everyone he meets) making lots of promises and looking to get rich off your money. But bottom line: he has no experience at this sort of thing. What companies has he started in Oakland? How many jobs has he created? What boards or councils has he served on that show this has been his focus and community interest?

Best to go with an attorney or agency that has a long history and credibility in creating jobs.

Posted by Guest Sarah on Mar. 05, 2011 @ 10:09 am

Hey Sarah,
This is Tom "Quirky Charisma" Henderson. In the future please use a pseudonym (ie., Fake Name). Your boyfriend Eric (My EB-5 Regional Center Competitor) needs to step up himself instead of hiding behind your comments. I understand Eric's jealousy not being interviewed for this article, but not my call.
FYI... I sold "my" $50M Seafood International Import Export company in 1993 where I had 300 employees working full time in Northern Calif for 20 years. You guys need to be more creative with the cheap shots.
The Bay Guardian did a nice job with an edge to the story. Some accurate and some questionable. But that is their job...
We will create 1000 high paying jobs in Oakland every year for a number of years as long as this EB-5 program continues to provide the job opportunites and investments into Oakland with an actual unemployment rate of over 20%. The City of Oakland Economic Development staff support our efforts.
Good luck to you and Eric.
Best Regards,
Tom Henderson

Posted by Guest Tom Henderson on Mar. 14, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

Also from this author

  • Sharing the sun

    Solar energy entrepreneurs are pioneering new models for democratizing power

  • Not in our neighborhood

    District 2 residents and supervisor oppose housing projects for at-risk young people

  • Power to the powerful

    PG&E's proposed rate increase would hurt conservation and the poor