Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland launched an ad last week attacking his GOP opponent Mike Rounds for selling U.S. residency to fund his Northern Beef Packers boondoggle and other economic development projects in South Dakota. Weiland's ad provoked much screeching and wailing from Team Rounds. That's a lie! shouts a video from the Rounds campaign. Mike never sold citizenship!
That's true. Rick Weiland and I and other observers occasionally err in our choice of words. The EB-5 visa investment program allows wealthy foreigners to buy their way to front of the immigration queue for $500,000. It does not buy them citizenship. It buys them green cards—permanent residence, which if maintained for five years allows an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen.
Weiland accurately used the term "U.S. residency cards" in his ad. The voiceover then said, "Rick Weiland believes citizenship shouldn't be for sale...." We can spend all weekend debating whether that statement is a lie, an error, or an oversimpification, rectified by saying, "The opportunity for citizenship through permanent residency shouldn't be for sale."
But when Mike Rounds himself finally comes out from under his rock and hyperventilates over that legal/semantic distinction, he will still have to admit to the core of Weiland's critique: selling the privilege of immigration to America was a central part of Mike Rounds's economic development efforts.
Mike Rounds's own EB-5 investment manager, Joop Bollen, said so under oath in 2008:
- In 2001, SDIBI initiated recruitment of European dairy farmers to South Dakota to construct and manage large state-of-the-art dairy farms in the eastern portion of the state. SDIBI was successful in recruiting 15 such projects whose owners all legally entered the United States of America to settle in South Dakota on E-2 non-immigrant visas.
- The Regional Center Program is an investment visa program designated as EB-5 which grants legal permanent residency to foreign nationals who create 10 direct or indirect full-time jobs by investing at least $500,000.00 in an area with a low population or a high unemployment rate. Such areas are designated as "regional centers."
- In 2003 SDIBI applied for regional center status, which was approved by United States Citizens [sic] and Immigration services (USCIS) in April of 2004.
- SDIBI obtained regional center status in order to provide more security to the European investors that had settled in South Dakota and to provide South Dakota with a competitive advantage over other states which were also recruiting European dairy investors, but were not able to offer permanent residency as they did not have regional center status [emphasis mine; Joop Bollen, Declaration, Darley International vs. South Dakota International Business Institute, Case No. CV08-05034 DDP PLAx, 2008.08.22].
Weiland and other critics of South Dakota's exploitation of the visa investment program should avoid saying "buy citizenship." They should instead use Rounds's man Bollen's own terms: South Dakota sold "permanent residency" to gain a "competitive advantage." Under Mike Rounds, South Dakota treated entry into the United States as a mere commodity, for sale to bidders more interested in buying green cards than in scrutinizing the hyperbolic business plan Rounds's pals floated for Northern Beef Packers.38 comments