How an Investor Visa Program Helps Stimulate Economic Growth

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

The State Department recently announced that, for the first time ever, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has reached its cap of 10,000 visas, largely due to an increase in Chinese investors. Although the EB-5 program—employment-based, fifth preference (or category)—has been around since 1990, the growth in its popularity as an investment tool has risen during the most recent economic crisis. The EB-5 visa offers foreign investors a chance to live in the United States and become citizens in exchange for providing $500,000 to $1 million in capital that creates at least 10 new jobs. As a new report by Matthew Kolodziej explains, the EB-5 program has supporters and detractors, but it is a laboratory for exploring how immigration law can be used to directly stimulate economic growth and development.

The paperThe U.S. Immigrant Investor Program: New American Investors Making a Difference in the Economy, focuses on one of the most innovative aspects of the EB-5 program, the regional center pilot program, which is an alternative to a direct investment option. Under the EB-5 rules, foreign investors can put their money directly in a job-creating business or transmit it to a “regional center,” which is designed to promote economic growth in designated areas by pooling multiple investors’ funds into large-scale projects. While there are roughly 400 regional centers today, the truly successful regional centers, including those in Vermont, California and Pennsylvania, offer examples of strategic business models that balance the interests of investors and localities, and that can keep on top of regulatory changes and requirements designed to maintain the integrity of the EB-5 program.

For example, the Vermont regional center is the only state-owned program in the country, offering the advantage of strategic investment tied to state economic development goals. In California and Pennsylvania, other regional centers have partnered with state and local non-profits to evaluate the integrity of investments. These models offer a range of advantages, according to Kolodziej, particularly in ensuring that the investments are legitimate and that they will actually produce the jobs and economic development promised.

Determining whether jobs actually are created, that investments are legitimate and that the investors merit a green card in a timely manner is the critical role USCIS plays in keeping the program viable. In recent years, USCIS has addressed shortfalls in the EB-5 program by reorganizing its process, centralizing adjudications and adding a team of economists and analysts to its staff to assess EB-5 applications.

Despite the clear economic benefit, the EB-5 program raises concerns for some who argue that it privileges the wealthy investor over other potential immigrants and can be susceptible to fraud. The program is not permanent—and in fact is set to expire in 2015 unless Congress renews it—so these kinds of issues are likely to be part of the next round of debate over immigration reform. But the program has staunch supporters in both parties and in both houses of Congress and is building a range of evidence that it creates jobs and spurs further economic growth. In fact, a Brookings Institution analysis concluded earlier this year that the EB-5 program has created 85,500 direct full-time jobs and attracted approximately $5 billion in direct investment since its creation almost 25 years ago. Consequently, studying the best-practices and innovations within the EB-5 program offers a framework for ensuring that the visa is used for responsible and solid investments in the U.S.

Children in Jail: What It’s Like for Immigrant Families Held at Karnes, Texas

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

This summer, tens of thousands of Central American families fled violence to the U.S. southern border. The administration responded by accelerating deportation proceedings, converting government facilities to family detention centers, and then prioritizing the detention and removal of families. First, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) turned the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico into an immigration jail. Calling it a “deportation mill,” the American Immigration Council and other organizations sued, citing interviews with mothers who were prejudged, intimidated and rushed through interviews, forced to tell harrowing stories of abuse with their children on their lap. But the administration’s plans haven’t stopped there. DHS then converted another facility in Karnes, Texas to house families, and announced plans to build a mega-facility in Dilley, Texas holding 2,400 individuals.

On September 16, I visited the 226 families detained in Karnes with a group of immigration lawyers, advocates and researchers. Talking to mothers and their children as they sit in detention is sad and frustrating. Their circumstances and stories make it hard to understand why DHS is detaining families, let alone planning to expand detention. When we sat down with the mothers and children in the cafeteria, they poured out their stories in Spanish, telling us why they left their home countries for the United States. One woman told us how Honduran gangs had threatened her teenage children. Another woman told us how she was afraid of her husband’s abuse. A third, a Salvadoran woman, started crying within seconds and told me of threats to her and her husband. While she spoke, an older child grabbed her leg and she bottle-fed a younger child. A colleague reported that a fourth woman, while she breastfed her child, spoke of witnessing an assassination back home.

ICE officials confirmed that 98 percent of the women at Karnes had expressed fear at some point. Yet the women were experiencing significant difficulty pursuing their asylum claims. Repeatedly, women told us how officers threatened them with years of jail, and losing her children, if they didn’t sign papers. They reported being cut off during phone calls and being afraid that conversations were recorded. And women described having no idea whether they failed or passed credible fear interviews and asylum hearings. Most had already failed before having a chance to hear about their legal rights because Karnes officials had yet to even set up know-your-rights presentations by local lawyers.

Karnes showed some improvements over the reports of conditions at Artesia. One representative asked DHS officials whether ICE provided child care during mothers’ asylum interviews, and DHS responded that they offer childcare because they had “learned that lesson [from Artesia].” A “law library” had 10 computers with LexisNexis access, yet no one was using them.

Meanwhile, in the facility’s courtyard, toddlers were everywhere. Some hung on to their mothers’ legs; some climbed on a playset in the middle of one courtyard. Mothers carried babies too young to walk. Women invariably told us their children had lost weight because they could not or would not eat the food. Studies show that detention scars children’s physical and psychological development, exacerbates trauma and damages the family structure. Paintings were ubiquitous on the concrete walls—smiling elephants, zebras, and giraffes, and a giant octopus holding food—and other concrete rooms were now converted to a “Cuarto de Jugar” (playroom), a “dayroom” with shelves of formula, and a makeshift school. But none of this changed the fact that Karnes is a jail.

Later that day, DHS counsel confirmed that, like Artesia, DHS’ policy is to deny bond to all detainees who pass credible fear interviews on “national security” grounds. In the same conversation, ICE officials flatly stated that the Karnes detainees had posed no safety or violence problems. This week, the American Immigration Council joined 160 organizations, including the American Psychological Association and led by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in writing President Obama a letter stating, “Family detention is wrong.” The letter requested to close Artesia and Karnes, stop plans for Dilley and discontinue DHS’ no-bond policy. It remains up to the White House to respond.

How Investing in English Language Learning Can Boost Local Economies

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

As local leaders explore ways to grow their local and regional economies, one area to address is access to English language learning opportunities for all members of a community. A new report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, examines workers with limited English proficiency (LEP) in U.S. metropolitan areas. According to the report, nearly one in 10 working-age adults in the U.S. are considered LEP, working-age LEP adults earn 25 to 40 percent less than their English proficient counterparts, and most LEP adults reside in large metropolitan areas but their numbers are growing fastest in smaller metro areas.

The findings are important for at least two reasons. First, lack of English proficiency results in lower earning power, which leads to lower consumer spending and lower tax revenue, all of which are economic trends that affect everyone in a city and metro area. Second, a variety of studies estimate that immigrants and their children will account for much growth in the U.S. labor force in coming decades amid an aging native-born population. “Investing in their skills—including English proficiency—is critical to building and maintaining a skilled workforce,” the report notes.

Jill Wilson, the report’s author and senior research analyst at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, explained that improving English skills can be a gateway to economic opportunities for immigrant workers, but access adult English instruction is limited due to a lack of resources. As Wilson urges, “Given the large number of LEP workers in the United States and the fact that virtually all of the growth in the U.S. labor force over the next four decades is projected to come from immigrants and their children, it is in our collective interest to tackle this challenge head on.”

Local community leaders recognize the need for more focus on English language education for working adults. “Our community needs to be focused on helping skill these people up,” said Wendy Boyer, senior vice president for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. And as the Omaha World-Herald notes, “removing that barrier would allow those workers to qualify for better jobs. But teaching English to working adults, most of them with families, is a complicated effort that requires coordination of transportation and child care, among other challenges.” Wilson told the Dallas Business Journal that immigrants want to learn English, but their opportunities are rare and often unsuccessful. “The traditional classroom structure is not working when you’re working two jobs and have a family,” Wilson said.

Access to resources to grow program capacity is also a challenge. “We want everyone to speak English, but we don’t provide the resources for it, especially for working adults,” said Lourdes Gouveia, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “There’s not a very concentrated, coherent, thoughtful effort. It’s by happenstance.” “It’s all about having the political will to say, ‘We want everyone to have one of the most important skills in order to have a 21st century labor force which is proficient in English,” Gouveia said.

A growing number of local initiatives include programs to support English-language learners and their families, such as the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes offered by Conexion Americas in Nashville. Such efforts are often part of a broader comprehensive approach to immigrant and refugee integration in a city or metro area because, as Wilson puts it, “As the nation discusses how to build a skilled workforce, a focus on enabling immigrants to become more productive members of society will help everyone in the long run.” 

Will CBP Actions Increase Transparency and Accountability?

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) frequently refers to itself as the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, yet many of its practices fail to live up to the expectations and standards by which modern, civilian police forces are measured. A constant barrage of advocacy and evidence pointing to CBP’s weaknesses in handling a range of complaints appears to have forced the agency to squarely confront these limitations. For instance, in May, the American Immigration Council reported that 97 percent of reviewed complaints of alleged abuse lodged against Border Patrol Agents between January 2009 and January 2012 resulted in “No Action Taken.” Around that same time, CBP released a scathing  report conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which raised a number of serious concerns about CBP officer conduct  and use of force protocols, finding that CBP officers had repeatedly abused their authority when responding to provocations, shooting unnecessarily at people and vehicles and engaging in other abusive conduct.

In response to the growing evidence and widespread criticism of CBP’s lack of accountability, the agency’s leadership made public new measures designed to increase the agency’s openness and transparency. Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that CBP will now have criminal authority to investigate complaints within the organization. According to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, the CBP Office of Internal Affairs (OIA), which is formally in charge of reviewing complaints of personnel misconduct, had until now insufficient authority to investigate or act upon claims of abuse within the organization. Under the new paradigm, qualified OIA employees will serve as criminal rather than general investigators.

In addition, CBP is adopting a unified, formal review process for use of force incidents, which will allow the agency to “effectively respond to, investigate, coordinate, report, review and resolve use of force incidents in a timely manner.” In response to a recommendation issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, CBP is also adopting a new Integrity and Personnel Accountability Strategy for all employees to foster a culture of integrity and eradicate corruption within the agency. The agency is also creating an interagency board to review use of force incidents and assess compliance with policy.

But extending criminal investigative authority to agents doesn’t fully explain the agency’s past failures to act on complaints. In tacit acknowledgment of the OIA’s inadequate review of complaints, the head of internal affairs, Mark Morgan, has reported that over the past few months OIA officials have been reexamining the 876 cases that were highlighted by the American Immigration Council’s and PERF’s respective reports. The move clearly represents a strategic change of approach. As stated by Kerlikowske during a public event, “We want to be able to respond quickly to incidents and we want to be able to get a message out within parameters as to what occurred. Too often I think our response had been ‘no comment’ or ‘this is under investigation.’ We need to be able to give people the basic facts about something that has occurred.”

These recent announcements are positive first steps but will require long-term commitment to a more transparent and accountable system. One thing is certain in the meantime: immigrant and civil rights groups, which have played a key role both in the identification of the most dire problems and in the recommendation of possible solutions, will continue to monitor the agency’s progress—or lack thereof—in pursuing transparency and accountability.

New Report Highlights Innovative Integration Initiatives in the Midwest

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

Last week, the Detroit City Council unanimously passed a resolution for Detroit to become a “welcoming city.” As Global Detroit notes, “The designation,” part of the Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, “recognizes places that support locally-driven efforts to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments that maximize opportunities for economic growth and cultural vitality.” As Detroit exemplifies, in the face of changing demographics and economic struggles, the future prosperity of states and cities across the country turns on finding creative strategies for encouraging new innovations in growth and building community. A new report by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the American Immigration Council looks at many of the local initiatives across the Midwest that are encouraging new growth, building community and harnessing the contributions of immigrants.

Reimaging the Midwest: Immigration Initiatives and the Capacity of Local Leadership offers a concise overview of state and local programs as well as the robust non-governmental civic initiatives in the Midwest that sometimes operate alongside, or in place of, government-driven programs. By documenting the varying initiatives in the region, the report serves as a resource for others interested in replicating these models, highlights the extent of the momentum building in this part of the country, and encourages greater regional collaboration and engagement for individuals and organizations working on these issues.

Specifically, the report highlights innovative initiatives that are fostering immigrant entrepreneurs, passing integration ordinances and creating immigrant integrationtask forces, promoting civic engagement, evaluating economic impact, providing education resources, and celebrating cultural diversity, among other efforts. The report urges leaders to:

  • Think creatively about opportunities for local action despite federal inaction around immigration reform.
  • Leverage the capacities of other institutions in their regions, including community institutions and the private sector, to maximize resources and expertise.
  • Collaborate with other regional entities and pursue broader, inclusive metro-wide initiatives, recognizing that communities and neighborhoods are interconnected as economic units and are comprised of immigrants and receiving community members representing different racial, ethnic, economic, social, and cultural backgrounds.

“The level of action here in the Midwest is indicative of a remarkable shift in rhetoric from previous years,” Juliana Kerr, a co-author of the paper and director of The Chicago Council’s work on immigrationsaid. “To be fair, however, the Midwest does have examples of restrictive policies and there is still much work to be done.” But as the report illustrates, the Midwest provides excellent examples of how regional, state and local entities can implement effective strategies that both integrate immigrants and foster economic development.

The report comes on the heels of National Welcoming Week (September 13-21), a series of events across the country led by Welcoming America that highlight contributions of immigrants to American communities. As Welcoming America observes, “While Washington continues to debate immigration, communities small and large, rural and urban, are moving full steam ahead to welcome immigrants and expand prosperity.” Clearly, elected and civic leaders throughout the Midwest are recognizing that they have a role to play in shaping immigration policy despite inaction at the federal level. In fact, the longer Congress fails to act, the more impetus there is for cities to step in to fill gaps. Whether by launching programs to infuse the local economy with new talent or adopting strategies to socially integrate immigrants, there is an unprecedented commitment from local leaders understanding the importance of immigrant integration.

Immigration policy is a decidedly federal affair, but the everyday reality and lived experiences of immigrant settlement and integration occur at the local level in towns, cities, and metropolitan regions. Whatever shape national immigration reform ultimately takes, municipalities and the local organizations within them will be involved in the implementation of any new policy, as well as in incorporating these changes into longer term immigrant integration plans. From Detroit to Dayton to Dodge City, creative municipal and civic leaders in a growing number of places are poised to continue to plan and implement innovative welcoming and integration strategies.

Immigration Bar Urges Congress, President to Shut Down Family Detention Center in Artesia

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

This week, the nation’s largest association of immigration attorneys and professors sent a powerful letter to Congress and the President urging them to immediately close the family detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico, where the U.S. currently detains women and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The letter, signed by attorneys who have spent significant time in Artesia and who serve in leadership positions with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), are urging Congress to “reverse its deportation and detention strategy” and “to oppose the inhumane practices that are taking place at Artesia and any funding requests for the detention of families.”

One of the signatories on the letter, Laura Licther, has been a vocal critic of the conditions in Artesia and the practice of putting mothers and children “in jail.” Another attorney on the letter, Stephen Manning, has spent extensive time in Artesia and chronicles attorneys’ experiences in a series of videos.

The AILA letter states:

Based on hundreds of interviews with these detained families that our expert lawyers have conducted, AILA has concluded that Artesia is a due process failure and a humanitarian disaster that cannot be fixed and must be closed immediately. Attorneys with long histories of representing clients at remote detention facilities have described Artesia as not just the worst situation they have ever encountered, but something far worse than anything they could have imagined.

The letter also cites specific examples of concerns with the asylum process in Artesia, including:

many legitimate asylum claims will never have a chance to be heard. Artesia detainees are subjected to “expedited removal” – the fastest removal procedure at our government’s disposal, with little chance to raise an asylum claim. The detention and rapid deportation strategy being executed at Artesia is even more draconian. The rate at which Artesia asylum officers find that detainees have a “credible fear” of persecution or torture – the first step in mounting an asylum claim in expedited removal – is much lower than the national average.

The speed with which officers are making credible fear decisions is also absurdly fast: 6.4 days on average.

Finally, the letter describes the humanitarian nightmare this detention center has become:

AILA member volunteers see the effects that detention is having on these families. They describe children who are dehydrated, listless, cold and losing weight. Mothers also report degrading treatment by some of the guards – including being called “piggies” at mealtimes. One woman suffering from diarrhea had no choice but to defecate on herself in front of her son because the guard ignored her pleas to be allowed to go to the bathroom.

It’s become increasingly clear that the family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, is a black mark on our history and tradition as a nation that provides fair and humane treatment to those in need of our protection.Congress and the White House must take seriously the concerns raised by lawyers who have spent hours inside the jail talking with the women and children there. Given that the government is planning to drastically expand family detention, now is the time to take an honest look at how we are processing and treating families in Artesia and what is the impact of detention on mothers and young children fleeing violence.

Cities Recognize the Power of Naturalization During Citizenship Day and Welcoming Week

Originally Posted on Immigration Impact.

Each year on September 17, the United States observes Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, a combined event that commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the constitution in 1787 and recognizes all those who are or have become U.S. citizens. This week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is celebrating Constitution Day and Citizenship Day by welcoming more than 27,000 new citizens in more than 160 naturalization ceremonies around the country. It’s a day for Americans to reflect upon the importance of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, to explore ways to remove barriers for those who are eligible, but still haven’t taken the leap, and examine the broader benefits of ensuring access to citizenship.

A report released today, Citizenship: A Wise Investment for Citiesestimates that immigrants’ earnings would increase 8 to 11 percent nationally after naturalization, creating beneficial ripple effects in the wider economy. In fact, the report notes that naturalizing only half of eligible Americans would lead to multibillion-dollar gains in the largest cities: 6.1 to 10.1 percent in New York, 9.6 to 11.4 percent in Chicago, and 11.1 to 14.6 percent in Los Angeles. Furthermore, the increase in earnings of immigrants who otherwise would not have naturalized would likely mean additional economic activity, up to $4.8 billion over ten years to the local economy in New York City, up to $3.3 billion in Los Angeles, and up to $1.8 billion in Chicago. These increases would also generate additional local and state tax revenues. “Helping immigrants to naturalize is an investment that pays off. For the relatively low cost of promoting naturalization,” the report notes, “the result is stronger communities with members who have made a permanent commitment to stay and who are able to participate more fully in our democracy.”

“American mayors are realizing that they can and should act now to encourage naturalization and immigrant integration,” said Manuel Pastor of USC. “This study makes the benefits for regional economies crystal clear, not only by boosting immigrants’ earnings, but for its larger positive ripple effects.” Indeed, the report’s release coincides with the launch of Cities for Citizenship, a national initiative chaired by the Mayors of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

In addition to cities’ investing in and encouraging citizenship, support from the local community to welcome new immigrants who want to establish roots is also important. As such, groups across the country are stepping up to fill that role and are cultivating an environment of welcome in their cities. This week, over 100 organizations across the country—more than double the number from last year—are hosting over 160 events in 27 states. The third annual National Welcoming Week, September 13 to 21, is a week of nationwide events, led by Welcoming America, designed to “honor immigrant contributions and build bridges among diverse local residents.”

Hopefully these nationwide movements won’t be lost on leaders in Washington. “Whether leaders in Washington recognize it or not, the Era of Welcoming has already begun,” said Welcoming America Executive Director David Lubell. “What we are seeing across the country is a groundswell of communities recognizing that creating an environment where everyone can contribute—no matter what they look like or where they were born—is the foundation of American competitiveness and economic vitality.”

Partnerships among local government and community organizations—such as those represented among National Welcoming Week activities—along with mayors encouraging citizenship and a welcoming climate in their cities, can all serve as ways to break down barriers for immigrants in ways that benefit everyone.