Deport the Poor and Sell Green Cards to the Rich?

The legal underpinning driving the planned economic renaissance in Northern Vermont is called the “Immigrant Investor Program” or EB-5 program. The federal program offers green cards to wealthy foreigners willing to pay half a million dollars to invest in designated “regional centers.” The State of Vermont is the only such center in the country run entirely by a state for a state with the Agency of Commerce administering the program. Statutes require that each investment show that ten new jobs will be created (quote) “directly or indirectly, using statistically valid forecasting.” (end quote) The program’s intent is to attract foreign investment capital into job-creating opportunities in exchange for immediate green cards for the investor and his family. Program investments are currently focused on economic development in Northern Vermont, where it is badly needed.

While two of the most divisive topics in the country today are immigration and the increasing polarization of wealth, the EB-5 program is hailed by conservatives and liberals alike as an innovative jobs creation program. And apart from a recent op-ed in US News by adjunct professor John Vogel at Dartmouth’s Tuck School, there has been remarkably little discussion at the intersection of these three issues.

Jobs are not created by capital per se; but by innovation and entrepreneurship. Capital is just the tool that actualizes the innovation. And if that’s true, I wonder if we should be selling green cards only to the rich in foreign countries, some of whom may have earned their wealth corruptly or simply inherited it.

We might also be obligated morally to consider the parents and spouses of US citizens being deported in greater numbers than ever before or detained in deplorable conditions. We use and then deport the hard working “illegals” that do all the jobs we won’t do, like milking our cows, picking our fruit, raising our kids, and cleaning our toilets. The INS costs more tax dollars than all other law enforcement agencies combined, and our porous borders remain just that.

It seems questionable to only be adding the rich and their money to our citizenship rolls. Many of the great American industrialists arrived penniless from abroad and created employment from little more than ideas and retained earnings. We also benefit from the foreign engineering graduate, budding scientist, entrepreneur, concert pianist, and medical researcher. I think it’s shortsighted to always start with money – and only money.

There is no question that Northern Vermont has benefited from this influx of revenue from selling green cards. But we should also be thinking more broadly about how we want to grow our country. Selling green cards to rich people may be one way. But deporting poor people only exacerbates the polarity of wealth.

When I researched the EB-5 program, I was immediately reminded of the Reformation and why Martin Luther set out to reform the Catholic Church that had so enriched itself and its leaders through the sale of plenary indulgences – but only to the few who could afford them.

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