Mexican Cartels Encourage Immigration, Legal and Illegal

Form I-90

The increasing scope and brutality of violence in Northern Mexico is driving immigration to the U.S. Mexican drug cartels have been connected to a myriad of crimes from drug smuggling to horrific massacres. In the summer of 2010, 72 would-be immigrants to the U.S. were found dead just 100 miles from the Texas border, bound and shot execution-style. They came from nearly every Central and South American nation. And just this year, mass graves of potential immigrants were found with over 200 bodies. Wealthy Mexicans are often specifically targeted. Business owners are forced to pay “street taxes” if they hope to conduct business with some modicum of peace, wealthy family members are kidnapped and held for ransom and, if no ransom is paid, killed in cold blood. Cartels pay off officials, are heavily armed, and have thus far resisted any attempt to flush them out.

Such violence is resulting in mass migration. Many Northern Mexicans head for Mexico’s larger cities in hopes of escaping scrutiny. Many more make a break for the U.S. Mexico’s wealthy are increasingly taking advantage of the U.S.’s EB-5 visa program. The EB-5 visa is offered to foreign nationals willing to make large investments in the U.S. economy, creating or sustaining at least 10 jobs. If a foreign national invests $500,000 into an economically depressed area in the U.S., they can get an EB-5 visa which is a short-road to a green card and a possible route to U.S. citizenship. These economically depressed areas are called “regional centers” and defined as an area where the unemployment rate is 150 percent of the national average. For a foreign national to obtain an EB-5 visa without investing in a regional center, they are required to invest a minimum of $1 million.

In 2010, only 34 Mexican nationals applied for an EB-5 visa, contrasted to over 1,200 Chinese nationals. The numbers have not been released yet for 2011 but Marco Ramirez, director of USA Now, an organization raising money for Texas regional centers, has received EB-5 investment money from 160 wealthy Mexicans this year alone, raising $90 million and expects to have at least 120 more by year’s end. Star of Texas Regional Center, an organization hoping to rebuild Katrina-ravaged Galveston Bay, expects to have 100 Mexican investors by the end of 2011. Ramirez has said, “A good way to call it is an exodus. Those who can leave are leaving.” Ramirez reported that many of his clients “have already had a situation of insecurity,” from having to pay street taxes to kidnapping, to the loss of a family member to cartel violence.

The program has been very good for the U.S. as well. These regional centers generally scare off American investors who view them as unnecessarily risky but foreigners with money looking for any way to get to the U.S. are helping to revive some of America’s most depressed and desperate regions. Some members of congress, encouraged by the success of the EB-5 visa, are endeavoring to create an EB-6 visa which would give unused EB-5 visas to American-educated foreigners who can convince investors to commit money to their business idea in the states, addressing concerns that the U.S. is educating its competitors. Money invested for an EB-5 visa is heavily scrutinized to make sure it comes from legal sources and if it can help innocent, law-abiding immigrants escape poor circumstances while bolstering the U.S. economy, it is a promising program.