American Citizenship For Sale

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“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

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The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

These words from “The New Colossus”, a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, were engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. The statue was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became such as immigrant ships passed Bartholdi’s gigantic effigy. Lazarus’s poem permanently turned Miss Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world.

Statue of Liberty CryingSeveral weeks ago, the New York Times reported on one of a new and different sort of monument that symbolizes America’s current attitude regarding suitable candidates for immigration and citizenship. In a remote area of Vermont, a ski resort is being constructed and financed by money invested by over 1,500 foreign investors who get a very small piece of a ski resort, but more importantly get a “green card,” meaning the right to permanent residency in the U.S. The minimum investment required? – half a million dollars.

How does a foreign national get to the front of the line, jumping over people fleeing oppression or waiting to join family? Meet our government’s EB-5 Immigration Program. Affluent foreigners have rushed to take advantage of this program that offers green card status in return for investing in government approved projects that are supposed to create at least ten jobs. With credit tight, the program has unexpectedly turned into a mainstay for the financing of construction projects in New York, California, Texas and other states.

The number of foreign applicants has nearly quadrupled in the last two years. Demand has grown so fast that the Obama administration is seeking to streamline the application process. No doubt as both political parties tout their plans for immigration reform they will include expansion of this program, making it easier and easier for the wealthy to become U.S. citizens.

The EB-5 program is administered through regional centers which work with private-sector brokers to identify local investments and direct foreign participants to them. Instead of approving investments that are innovative and create scores of jobs, government administrators often approve businesses that are simple to understand and provide something tangible and visible, such as a ski resort, casino, or shopping center.

Everyone is for creating jobs and encouraging foreign investment in this country, but we should all be bothered by the concept of selling U.S. citizenship, which is exactly what this program boils down to. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Day after day, we debate how to deal with the over 12 million illegal immigrants in this country; day after day we reject thousands of applicants fleeing terrible oppression, torture, degradation, or poverty. With the EB-5 program, the message is clear: “Let those who mow our lawns, pick your crops, or care for our children wait for decades or forever,” but if your wallet is fat enough we say, “come on in!”

Unless he is an American Indian, every U.S. citizen is either an immigrant or the child of immigrant ancestors who left their home fleeing oppression or seeking economic opportunity or religious freedom. The message the EB-5 program sends to the world is not – “Give us your poor, your huddled masses,” but “Give us your rich, your pampered few.” American citizenship is now for sale.