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.
THE AMERICAN DREAM
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." *
EB-5 COMES TO SAN FRANCISCO
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.