I would feel proud if the movers and shakers in Sacramento backed a program to bring desperate Syrian war refugees to our city. Instead, they are promoting a plan to allow wealthy foreigners to go to the head of the immigration line and buy their way into the United States.
Where’s the outrage, folks, or at least a touch of cynicism?
It wasn’t to be found in the Sacramento Bee today, which put this headline on the story: “Sacramento Kings pursue overseas investors for development near new arena.” The lead of the story said: “Tapping into a federal program that dangles green cards to wealthy foreigners, the Sacramento Kings are seeking Chinese investment dollars to help finance redevelopment of the site around the new downtown arena.”
For those who dig into this federal program, a less rosy picture emerges. Fortune magazine headlined its story this way: “The dark, disturbing world of the visa-for-sale program.” The lead of the story said: “Whether you’re a skilled technology worker or a poor laborer, it’s getting harder to become a U.S. citizen. But for those with $500,000 to buy their way in, it’s a different matter.”
Officials with the Kings and their development partner, JMA Ventures of San Francisco, recently traveled to China to pitch the redevelopment of Downtown Plaza to potential investors, The Bee said. The Kings and JMA plan to build more than $300 million worth of development near the new Golden 1 Center arena, including a hotel-office tower and a shopping and dining district. The officials hope to entice foreign investors to use a 25-year-old federal program, called EB-5, that gives international investors the right to gain permanent U.S. residence – a green card – in return for hefty investments that create jobs.
Immigrant investors are required to invest $1 million in a general commercial project or $500,000 in a low-income or rural project and show they’ve created at least 10 jobs within about two years to stay in the United States permanently. About 10,000 visas were granted through the program last year, most going to Chinese investors.
Critics are quick to make the moral argument that the United States should not be in the business of selling the right to live in this country. A system that favors the rich over the poor or the middle class is especially repugnant.
Beyond that, the federal immigration agency that oversees the controversial EB-5 investor visa program can’t effectively detect fraud or assess the program’s economic benefits, the Government Accountability Office said in a report this past summer. The agency can’t determine the number of jobs created nor the source of investors’ funds, the GAO said.
That conclusion comes almost two years after a blistering report in 2013 by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security that drew similar conclusions, the Seattle Times reported.
Because of its troubled past, Congress is currently debating whether to renew authorization for the EB-5 program. In an editorial, the Washington Post urged Congress to end the program.
“Let hotel developers compete for capital in the marketplace like everyone else,” the Post said. “And let the thousands of visas set aside for EB-5 applicants be reassigned to immigrants who are worthy even if they aren’t rich.”
The owners of the Kings and arena developers should be embarrassed to promote such a tainted program.