Friday, December 6, 2013

USCIS Approves American Bridge Seattle Regional Center!

[PREFACE: As most of my readers know, I'm very wary of structuring new EB-5 Regional Centers and Projects.   While many of my colleagues are doing very brisk business with EB-5 formations, I have a real issue taking on an EB-5 structure unless I'm 100% satisfied with both the quality of the folks behind the deal AND the confidence that when it is finally approved by USCIS, the project will actually FIND INVESTORS.  The former issue of GP reputation is as much about protecting my OWN reputation as it is about protecting future investors; the latter issue of saleability is based upon the hard, cold reality that a tiny fraction of the 300+ -- is it over 400 now? -- USCIS approved EB-5 Regional Centers already on the market have succeeded in raising their first dollar.  I'm not interested in earning a big fee when I know the deal will not sell, and I disagree with my colleagues who handle that issue by smugly pointing out that they are "just forming the project, not guaranteeing its success".  BULL-oney.] 
 
Folks, I am happy to report that USCIS has approved American Bridge Seattle Regional Center!  American Bridge was the only EB-5 RC I agreed to structure in 2012 and I am delighted that my clients can move forward.   American Bridge is in fact an entirely new breed of Regional Center, and that's not hyperbole...here's why:

  • The Regional Center is co-owned and managed by my good friend Greg Denton, who's attended the EB-5 "School of Hard Lessons" side by side with me for these past few years.  Greg is one of the brightest minds in U.S. hospitality management, widely respected, and literally the author of a leading textbook on Hospitality Management.
  • The project, a Residence Inn Hotel in Seattle, is being developed by Navin Dimond and his veteran team at Stonebridge Companies. Navin, like Greg, is another hospitality industry maestro.  He's been honored the Award of Excellence from the American Asian Hotel Owners Association, the Hotelier of the Year Award from the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and the prestigious Hilton Hotels Multi-brand Developer of the Year Award.
  • The formula and structure for the project mirrors what Stonebridge has done dozens of times before, providing prospective EB-5 investors with real-world, verifiable proof of success in both the business model AND, more importantly, exit strategy.
If you've been reading my blog for awhile now, you know the trials and tribulations of the past few years as we've brought Lake Point EB-5 to success.  For us, despite being blessed with a Forbes 400 powerplant under the hood, the path to EB-5 success was essentially trial and error; EB-5 was an afterthought after the GP had already bankrolled 80% of the project.
(For Lake Point, the fact that our project is an existing and NOT "distressed" business continues to be a primary draw for our investors.)  American Bridge is, IMHO, "an entirely new breed" of Regional Center simply because it is, to my knowledge, the first "new construction" EB-5 project which is predicated upon a verifiable and proven business model which the principals have replicated successfully dozens of times over two decades.  Navin, Greg, and their team bring a depth of industry experience to the EB-5 business that few Regional Centers can match (100+ hotel projects and $3 Billion of transaction experience).  And THAT, folks, is why I am proud to have structured American Bridge EB-5!

Greg is also looking beyond the Regional Center format as far as the EB-5 solutions he wants to bring to market.  He's told me that American Bridge will also carve out a new niche in the EB-5 market by hosting select Direct EB-5 projects which are customized to meet the needs of the individual investor.  In fact, he's currently marketing a number of restaurant and commercial laundry projects to EB-5 investors, offering innovative terms (all structured to comply with USCIS rules, of course) such as equity conversion options, profit participation, cash flow "lockboxes" for the benefit of the EB-5 investors, and loan maturity mechanisms that are triggered upon approval of the I-829 application.   VERY cool stuff.

I've said for years that our Lake Point project was the ONLY real "investment" in the EB-5 market place because our equity EB-5 partners are par for par with the General Partner on ROI: if our GP makes 50%, so do our EB-5 investors; if our GP loses 50%, so do our EB-5 investors.  Bona fide risk, tempered with a Forbes 400 GP with a sterling reputation.  Greg's view toward creating innovative solutions for individual EB-5 represents another step in the right direction -- protecting the investor -- which has been  sorely lacking in the EB-5 marketplace.

CONGRATS TO TEAM AMERICAN BRIDGE!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Contact Email for Lake Point EB-5

Well, it was only a question of time before some green-skinned, malevolent computer geek basking in anonymity would think to hack us...but they did.   I now have the dubious distinction of owning a domain which has flooded at least one nursing home with over 500 porn and spam emails within a few brief hours.  How's that for "social networking"?  )-:

The culprit email address has been shut down but we haven't had time to update the site yet to reflect the new one, so please email me directly for any questions regarding AVSRC and Lake Point EB-5.

Good grief. 

Happy holidays to all, Jose






Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 Lake Point EB-5 Redux, Better Late than Never!

Folks, I know I've been as quiet as a church mouse -- online anyway -- but this fall has been one big Rock 'Em/ Sock 'Em season of high fives all around:

  • Lake Point EB-5 approvals have continued to steamroll in since our #1 approval came in September, with a total of 7 Lake Point EB-5 I-526s approved for investors from China, Vietnam, and Russia so far...and no denials.
  • USCIS approved the Lake Point Capital Partners I-924 Amendment, assuring our second and final tranche investors of the USG's approval and acceptance of our industry-leading protocols designed to both secure PERMANENT residency for our EB-5 partners AND maximize their ROI through judicious stewardship of their investment dollars.
  • Lake Point's Managing Director, Jud Laird, and I just returned from closing* Lake Point Capital Partners investment tranche in Vietnam, where Lake Point EB-5 has been enthusiastically received for its Forbes-driven leadership and conservative business strategy
*A gentle but important reminder to our newest subscribers:  first to fund means first to vest.  While we are fully subscribed in that we have our 40 investors signed up,  slots remain open until funds are deposited in the JP Morgan Client Funds Account, where they remain in trust for our investors until their I-526 is approved.  Please remember that we have many other folks in queue who have indicated that they will be funding shortly, so we encourage you to expedite your funding to insure your Lake Point EB-5 slot.

We wish to express our thanks to our last group of investors for their faith and support of Lake Point EB-5.  We'll be updating you again soon but in the meantime a big shout out to our approved investors. who so patiently waited for their approvals and who are proving to be the most formidable partners ever in their support of Lake Point EB-5!  (Below is a picture of Jud -far left - and me with our first approved investors, who stopped by for a visit in our Saigon office.)  Best, Jose






Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SUCCESS IN CHINA!! Lake Point EB-5's First Chinese I-526 Approved!

American Venture Solutions Regional Center and Lake Point EB-5 extend our hearty congratulations to our THIRD approved EB-5 investor, who has patiently waited for over one year for their approval.  Like I-526 approvals numbers 1 and 2, this third approval was issued without a Request for Evidence.  For me, on a personal level, it is wonderful to see our first Chinese investor approval, given the tremendous time and effort so many of us have put into the world's most important EB-5 market.

As our regular readers know, Lake Point EB-5 finally got "unstuck" at the very over-burdened USCIS EB-5 adjudications office after a year and a half of waiting.  Today's approval strengthens our faith that our pipeline of pending Lake Point EB-5 I-526s will move along more swiftly, now that USCIS adjudicators have had an opportunity to vet the Lake Point Project, which remains the only bona fide, investment-grade EB-5 opportunity on the market.

While the sequester and the continued partisan budget fights in Congress are indeed to blame for the USCIS EB-5 unit remaining chronically understaffed, one can't help but wonder about the terrible judgment calls coming out of Washington as far as adjudications prioritization.  If there is ANY USCIS unit which should be at the front of the funding line, it's the beleaguered folks in Laguna Niguel.  As a matter of policy, USCIS filing fees should be channeled in accordance with their intended purpose, and the EB-5 unit continues to get fiscally short-changed by USCIS decision-makers in Washington.

The fact is that USCIS' EB-5 unit is more than self-funding; high-ticket I-924 filing and amendment fees plus thousands of expensive I-526s probably make this the only money-making USCIS unit.   More importantly, consider positive economic impact:  if there is ANY USCIS office who's efforts correlate directly with the improvement of the U.S. economy, it's these folks.  With over 5000 petitions in queue, there are BILLIONS of investor dollars trapped in Regional Center escrow accounts...money which SHOULD be already working hard to create jobs.

When you consider the immense complexity of EB-5 adjudications when compared to any other visa category, you begin to get a clear picture of level of sophistication required for the job.  Consider the last I-924 RFE I received several months ago: it was an absolute STUDY on econometric analysis; whether it was written by one of their relatively new economists or an EB-5 adjudications, it reflected an extraordinary level of intellectual scrutiny on someone's part, notwithstanding the mountains of files that person no doubt has on his or her desk.  (To put it more bluntly, the analysis was so complex that I didn't even understand some of the questions until someone with a functioning left brain translated; hey, I never said I was good at spreadsheets...(-;)

I know the decision to move EB-5 adjudications to Washington was announced eons ago, I know there is no money to even think about exactly how and when that will happen, and I know that as of this past summer, we have been told to send our I-526s to Texas (???).  Considering the Herculean efforts we continue to see from Laguna Niguel - AFTER they've essentially been told they are having the hardest job in USCIS adjudications taken away from them -- might it not be a good time to reconsider the move, get these guys some of the EB-5 filing fees USCIS is firing in other directions, and let them do what they do best?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lake Point EB-5 gets SECOND I-526 Approval Without RFE!

I told you Friday about our first Lake Point EB-5 investor getting their I-526 approved without an RFE; turns out Lake Point EB-5 investors #1 AND #2 were BOTH approved on Friday, with neither generating an RFE from USCIS.  Thanks and hats off to Laguna Niguel! (-:

For more information on the only Forbes 400 owned and managed EB-5 opportunity, visit American Venture Solutions Regional Center and contact me if you need further information.
Just planned next two Asia trips and we're looking to zip Lake Point EB-5 up ASAP!

Jose

Friday, September 6, 2013

BIG NEWS!!! Lake Point's First I-526 EB-5 Investor Approved!!

It took more than a year and a half, dozens of follow-up inquiries, and a lot of patience but Lake Point EB-5 just got our first I-526 approval!!  The investor is from Vietnam...and the approval was WITHOUT an RFE!

We extend our congratulations to our wonderful, PATIENT client, to the many colleagues and immigration agents who have patiently waited for Lake Point's first EB-5 approval, and to the still-underfunded, sequester-impaired USCIS which continues to do its best to work its way through the massive backlogs they face.

On a personal note, I am literally light-headed.  Getting an investor to stay on board for a full year longer than the original estimated time of approval is a formidable task; I am so happy that our client's trust was not misplaced. (-:

Press release soon but a quick note to the Lake Point Fence Sitting Club, now numbering in the dozens:  we expect the approval to mean a flurry of filings from Vietnam from folks who've been waiting for this first approval, so don't dally!

Great weekend to everyone!  Jose

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Uh...Thanks, Mr. President...But How Does This Explain EB-5 I-526 Backlog???

Remember back a few months ago when I published my earnest (read: desperate) letter to the President of the United States asking him why USCIS delays have thousands of I-526s pending for over a year and billions locked in escrow instead of creating American jobs?
Well, here is his "answer"...and it is so sad.  Are things really that macroeconomic that the best Washington can do is speak in generalities?

You know, Mr. President, I stood in line for four hours to vote for you and on the night of your victory, you said we "have to fix that".  I actually believed you.  The below leads me to think that despite your best intentions, your position renders you powerless to effect the core, grass-root correction of government dysfunction which continues to paralyze our private sector.  Adjudicating the I-526 of an EB-5 investor coming in through an approved Regional Center project is a 15 minute undertaking focusing on ONE LONE ISSUE: source of funds.  That's it.  Why 18+ months??? 

Sigh.


The White House, Washington



Dear Jose:

Thank you for writing.  Each day, I hear from Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, or struggling to find a job that pays a living wage.  I am committed to restoring the basic bargain at the heart of the American dream—the idea that if you are willing to work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead.

To realize this goal, we must reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth—a rising, thriving middle class.  We must build ladders of opportunity for everyone willing to climb them.  And we must forge an economy that works for all Americans—where everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same rules.  To learn more about my Administration’s efforts to grow an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs, I encourage you to visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/economy.

My first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.  After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs in the past 3 years, including 500,000 manufacturing jobs.  We are making historic progress toward our goal of doubling American exports by the end of 2014.  To accelerate this trend, I have proposed reforms that reward companies for bringing jobs home while eliminating tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas.  My Administration is also investing in the cutting-edge technologies that will make America home to the next revolution in manufacturing.  Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, transforming a once-shuttered warehouse into a state-of-the-art lab where workers are mastering 3D printing.  Building on its success, we are launching three new manufacturing hubs where we will partner with businesses to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  And I have called on Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs to accelerate the resurgence of American manufacturing.

We need to reach for a new era in American energy, with an economy fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources designed and produced by American workers.  We are taking every possible action to safely develop a massive, newly accessible supply of natural gas in the United States that will last nearly 100 years and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.  We have doubled the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, creating tens of thousands of good American jobs in the process.  I have also set a goal to double renewable electricity production again by 2020 to build on our momentum and create even more jobs.

An economy built to last also demands that we cultivate the skills of our students and workers so they remain the best in the world.  Employers today are looking for skilled, educated workers, and we have a responsibility to provide our workforce with the tools to prepare for the jobs of today and to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.  We have made a national commitment to train 2 million workers for good-paying jobs in high-growth and high-demand industries, and my Administration is helping community colleges redesign training programs to become community career centers.

As our troops return home, we need to ensure they can find jobs to put their unparalleled skills and experiences to use.  My Administration has helped over 950,000 veterans and their family members go back to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, hired over 200,000 veterans into jobs with the Federal Government, made it easier for veterans to access employment services, and set up online tools to connect veterans with job openings that match their skills.  We have also proposed an expansion of entrepreneurship training opportunities for separating service members and veterans.  America’s businesses have accepted a challenge proposed by First Lady Michelle Obama’s and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative to hire 175,000 veterans and military spouses, and we have put in place 2 new tax credits for companies that hire veterans.  Supporting our troops and helping veterans find work is good for our communities, good for our economy, and good for our country.  To explore the many programs in place to help fight veteran unemployment, visit www.JoiningForces.gov.

To create true, broad-based prosperity, it is not enough to make new jobs available; we must attach those jobs to decent wages that can support a family.  Because no one who works full time should live in poverty, I proposed raising the minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour and tying it to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage hard-working families can live on.  For millions of working families this simple step could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, and for businesses across the country it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.

While we still have a long way to go, our economy is continuing to recover after the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  We buy more American cars than we have in 5 years and less foreign oil than we have in 20.  From passing the Recovery Act to saving the American auto industry, my Administration has laid a solid foundation for growth.  Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, but much work remains.  It will take time to fully repair the damage, but I am confident our Nation will emerge from this challenge as we always have—stronger than ever before.

To find comprehensive tools and training resources for your job search, please visit JobCenter.USA.gov.  You can also locate an employment center near you by selecting your state at www.DOL.gov/DOL/Location.htm.  For available assistance with education and job training, please visit www.Opportunity.gov.  For career resources, call 1-877-872-5627 or visit www.CareerOneStop.org.  For more information on jobs, health benefits, housing assistance, and other public resources, call 1-800-FEDINFO or visit www.USA.gov.

Thank you, again, for writing.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Visit WhiteHouse.gov



This Week at the White House
Stay Connected




Saturday, July 27, 2013

Understanding "Matter of Ho"...

If there was a Hollywood Walk of Fame for people who are gifted with the ability to explain cryptic USCIS memoranda to those of us left scratching our heads, Suzanne Lazicki would get the first star.  I don't know Ms. Lazicki personally but I've been reading her brilliant blog, LucidText, for awhile now and I can say her ability to examine, ponder, and contemplate the very esoteric nuances of EB-5 policy is unparalleled.   She is a gifted writer, and her ability to cobble together a logical conclusion out of the sundry puzzle pieces we are given via policy memoranda, etc. always impresses.  When she tackles one of these themes, reading her blog reminds me of watching one of those people who can solve a Rubik's Cube in a minute or two:  a dual response of "Man, that looks easy" combined with "that part of my brain is simply missing"...(-;

Yesterday she did it again with her new piece on Matter of Ho as it relates to USCIS policy on business plan structuring.  Short, to the point, illuminating, and a MUST read for EB-5 practitioners who tend to get so caught up in the semantic debates of Ho particularities that they miss the forest because of all the trees.

Hats off to you, Suzanne, your efforts are much appreciated!  J

What does Matter of Ho-compliant mean?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Simplified Home Office Deduction




Okay, I know, I know...I've lost it when I start sharing IRS YouTube videos, right?  Humor me on this one: I know tons of people who really DO use their home office for business but steer clear of the complexity of declaring it (me, for one.) 

Here's a cool and simple new rule which actually can put some beer money in your pocket courtesy of a very smart and simple solution from the folks whose acronym terrifies us all:

Where It All Started: Individual EB-5 Via Smart U.S. Investment

Folks, as the USCIS continues to sit on thousands of long-delayed I-526 EB-5 investor petitions, a Chinese riptide of exasperated investors and agents is threatening the foundations of dozens of U.S. projects relying on EB-5 capital as part of their capital stack. As this is happening, more and more investors are looking at the individual EB-5 investment, based on faster adjudication times, the elimination of econometric analysis (which is triggering more than 50% of the RFE substance we are seeing these days), and simplicity of direct employment.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is working very hard to get USCIS' I-526 adjudication in gear as these delays are costing Florida companies millions of dollars and thousands of unrealized America jobs -- the raison d'etre of EB-5 - continue to be delayed.  In the meantime, China agents are getting nervous and pulling investors by the dozens (or, in one case, hundreds), sending legitimate U.S. EB-5 developers toppling over USCIS' unfulfilled promises of timely I-526 adjudications.  It is the saddest thing I've seen in immigration since the mean-spirited defeat of the DREAM Act.

Enterprising folks are coming up with all kind of "new innovations" in EB-5 structuring; most of it is neither new, nor innovative.  We've been doing pooled EB-5 individual investment structures for about 20 years now; there are ways to do it which work, ways to do it which will NOT work, and from what I've read, these newbies are making assumptions that will prove incorrect when it comes to USCIS adjudication time.

Remember this:  the entire world is talking about EB-5, but the vast majority of direct foreign investment in the U.S. has no immigration objectives.  To put it simply, before you park your money in a five year loan paying .000002% interest and assume that the developer will be able to repay your $500K simply because he is promising you a date of repayment, it's time for a reality check. I propose that it IS possible to make an intelligent direct investment in the U.S. and secure your individual EB-5...but if and only if the investment makes business sense.

Fortunately for me, Jud and George don't read my blog or they'd be over hear throwing staplers at me, accusing me of steering investors away from our Lake Point Capital Partners EB-5 Regional Center project which I sincerely (and NOT objectively) believe to be the single most sensible EB-5 Regional Center opportunity on the market.  I'm not doing so and I think Lake Point makes sense for SOME investors but not for those who are reluctant with RC structures in general, and who DO want to work and run their own business in the US.

For those folks, beware of newfangled EB-5 hybrids because guess what?  USCIS has never heard of them or adjudicated them.  Right now Private Placement Partners -- the foreign direct investment/ private equity company I co-own with Bianca Saltz -- has an interesting assortment of proven, profitable small business ranging from a very cool Miami art gallery to a national commercial laundry operation to a leading South Florida sushi business ready to expand.  Each of these are vetted, proven and profitable and, most importantly to my readers, each of these CAN be structured as a direct EB-5 visa for those clients interested in U.S. residency.

Do your homework, folks, it's the Wild West out there in EB-5 Land these days.  USCIS will get it together and "unstick" the stuck Regional Center investors and given the extraordinary success of the EB-5 program; I am confident of a continued mandate to invite foreign direct investment in the U.S.  In the meantime, turn the clock back 21 years to consider what we've been quietly doing before the concept of "Regional Center" even existed, and ponder this remarkable question:

What if a sensible, at-risk, business investment could actually BOTH make business sense AND get your family U.S. permanent residence?

Contact bianca@privateplacementpartners.com for details regarding individual EB-5 opportunities in the U.S.

[NOTE: this is a generic plug for individual EB-5 as an immigration vehicle, not a plug for any particular investment.  The audience for this article is intended to be the many agents, attorneys, and advisors throughout the world who are struggling with the delayed adjudication issues associated with Regional Center EB-5 I-526 petitions who call or write to ask me what the %&@# is taking USCIS so longEach of the EB-5 opportunities mentioned, including Regional Center EB-5s and individual investment projects suitable for EB-5 are at risk investments and each has its own detailed offering documentation which can only be made available to investors accredited under U.S. and state securities laws.  Neither LatourLaw (a private client law firm) nor Private Placement Partners, LLC (a consulting firm offering concierge services to private foreign clients with US interests) are in the business of offering investment advice; we're just here to warn you about those who purport to be qualified to do so but really aren't.]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

IRS Requires Electronic FBAR Filings Beginning July 1, 2013



The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has announced that its form for reporting foreign bank and financial accounts will only be accepted for electronic filing beginning Monday.  The so-called "FBAR" - which stands for "Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts" -- requires anyone who is subject to U.S. taxes to report any interests in financial accounts, trusts, etc. overseas.  Here's a link to the IRS page on FBAR:


IRS' FBAR FAQs

I know I sound like a broken record, but I continue to be astonished at the number of inbound EB-5 investors I meet, especially those from the Pacific Rim, who have given absolutely no thought whatsoever to pre-immigration tax planning.  Once you land at the airport and get stamped as a U.S. conditional resident, you ARE subject to worldwide taxation!  Neither the smooth-talking U.S. EB-5 purveyors (okay, I admit it, I may fall into this category...(-;) nor the foreign migration agents want to raise the subject of U.S. tax liability with prospective EB-5 investors in China, Taiwan, and Koreas...because it's a deal-killer when the client has significant foreign assets.  In the past two months I've had two new EB-5 investors, recently arrived, tell me that they just aren't going to report their overseas assets.  THAT brilliant strategy, used so resolutely by South American immigrants over the past two decades, is not ideal given that the U.S. has just announce an information sharing initiative in conjunction with 50 foreign countries!

If your foreign assets consist of a few properties, I can probably help you.  However, if your foreign assets involve substantial business interests, holdings, intellectual property, etc., then you need a serious tax attorney to help you get organized in your pre-immigration tax planning...BEFORE you arrive on U.S. shores.  If your case is the latter, as always I direct you to my trusted colleague Steve Cantor, who is the best in the business...tell him Jose sent you!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The End of the Innocence: INTERPOL Complicity in Political Persecution

In my most recent two decades of law practice, I have dealt primarily with high net worth individuals who are living in unstable places in the Middle East, Far East, Latin America, and former Soviet states.  And as I have so often written in Immigration Insider, while the opportunity to secure U.S. residency through an EB-5 investor visa is a great option for many, there are a certain percentage of very high net worth clients for whom the U.S., with its regimen of global taxation on all income generated worldwide, for whom a green card makes very little sense.  These are the folks form whom we explore options like a St. Kitt's passport investment and other alternative jurisdictions.

After not hearing the word "INTERPOL" (which stands for The International Criminal Police Organization) for a VERY long time (probably since my days as a U.S. consular officer in Africa), it is now part of my daily lexicon, initially the result of the late Hugo Chavez' bombardment of international arrest warrants against any and all affluent and/or powerful Venezuelans bold enough to defy his dictatorial agenda.  A few trumped up allegations ramrodded through a Chavez-owned court and presto:  an obliging Interpol, without so much as an iota of due diligence, issues a so-called "Red Notice", a de facto international arrest warrant which triggers visa denials, detentions, and the end of travel freedom...irrespective of whether the flagged person is a bona fide criminal or a local politician running against a Chavista mayor in a pivotal election.

The problem is that INTERPOL is, well, very political, very profitable, and made up of many member countries whose respect for the rule of law is, ahem, somewhat lacking.  Back when it was established as the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC) in 1923, it was a pretty good idea.  Bad guys on the lam could be caught via the telegraphic issuance of international communiques.  But fast forward almost a century and its 190 countries provide it with a budget of around €60 million  (that's Euros) through annual contributions.  These member states include some real beacons of liberty:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Equatorial Guinea (where I was a consular officer and lived to tell)
  • Cuba
  • Kyrgistan
  • Russia
  • Nigeria
  • Syria and of course, my personal favorite,
  • Venezuela
That's just a slice of INTERPOL's finest and believe me, there are dozens of the most corrupt, dictator-driven, scandalous countries in the INTERPOL roster.  Which explains why in the past year I've had a half dozen clients surprised to hear that they were, suddenly and inexplicably, "wanted by INTERPOL". 

As I continue my journey down the rabbit hole I fell into last week on US soil, I am swiftly coming to the conclusion that what I've called "ACLU Paranoia" for the past 3 decades may simply be what happens when you take the Red Pill and, like Neo in the Matrix, snap out of the fiction into a world where freedom is hardly assured, and where the government is not necessarily "here to help"

Check this out:

Great Article on How Some Governments Use Interpol to Pursue Political Agendas

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Apology to CBP For Yesterday's Blog Title

I've received two phone calls this morning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The first was from an old CBP friend who was incredulous over the events of this past weekend, which I relayed in yesterday's Immigration Insider as "My Weekend on the U.S. Border: CBP or KGB?"  The second call, in contrast, was from a very angry, semi-literate self described "CBP professional" who, between expletives, stated he had been there during my prospective investor's illegal detention and I had totally "miscontruded" (had him repeat that to make sure I heard correctly) the facts in my blog.  After Saturday, the tone and language was hardly a surprise but receiving that second call on my personal cell phone was extremely uncool.  How did he get my number?  Why did they copy my U.S. passport?  What are they doing with my personal information? 

One thing both my friend and angry caller agreed on was that my comparing CBP to the KGB was over the top.  In retrospect and with a cooler head, I agree, and I would like to apologize to the countless CBP professionals throughout the country as my words were out of line.  I had a very shocking, very traumatic, very illegal set of events unfold this weekend at the hands of a few CBP officials (along with other unidentified civilian USG officials) and I realize that the outrageous actions of a few do not represent the character and integrity of the corps of law enforcement professionals protecting our borders and Ports of Entry.   Rereading my blog, it was written by a very outraged former U.S. visa officer.   But my comparison was the equivalent of trash talking the Marine Corps because of the violent actions of a few bad Marines...and that is something I would never, ever do.  I am sincerely sorry for my words and am editing the title of the blog post to remove that very poor choice of words, and I especially apologize to my handful of friends in the CBP, all of whom are exemplary professionals.

Now...as for the individuals who DID in fact on Saturday conspire with Mexican authorities in handing over a prospective EB-5 investor possessing a valid B visa, a 100% clear criminal record, and who had not been charged with anything anywhere...no apologies to you.  You -- meaning you the supervisors calling the shots and the half dozen agents saying they were "following orders, sorry" -- live and work on the border and are acutely aware of federal procedural requirements when a person asks for asylum.  Each of you -- I don't care whether you are a supervisor or a newbie -- had a personal responsibility to step up and say "we CANNOT do this as it is AGAINST THE LAW."   You had 4-5 hours to stop the madness but instead let it continue and in so doing violated express statutory provisions relating to the prohibition of Expedited Removal in cases where an individual requests political asylum.   Those responsible held accountable for their actions when the Department of Justice ethics investigators come and visit.   And given the number of us --other prospective EB-5 investors as well as attorneys from both countries -- who witnessed Saturday's obscene desecration of the U.S. Constitution... it will be interesting to hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Weekend on the US Border: CBP Gone Awry

This past weekend, as I have so many dozen times before, I entered the US with a group of  Mexican nationals with valid U.S. B1/B2 visas for the purpose of exploring various EB-5 Regional Centers in Southern Texas.  As always, I explained that the prospective investors all needed I-94s as we would be going further than 25 miles from the border.   As the officers processed the I-94s, one of the prospects, a former Mexican state official  (although he is not my client, I am omitting his name out of respect for his now-traumatized family), was taken behind the waiting room; an hour later we were advised that his visa was being cancelled and he would be allowed to return to Mexico.   Fair enough.  But over the course of next four hours, he was instead arrested, denied access to counsel after asking for political asylum, shackled, and unlawfully transported across the bridge into the waiting arms of the Mexican authorities...which CBP had directly notified.  

For the past six months, since leaving public office, the individual in question has been one of numerous subjects of a politically-driven media campaign alleging misappropriation of public funds.  Aware of this issue in advance, I had specifically confirmed with his Mexican counsel before crossing into the US that there were no outstanding arrest warrants or convictions which could prevent his US entry...absence of any warrants or charges in Mexico was verified on the evening before into the U.S.  (Under Mexico, btw, as in the US, the law presumes a person innocent until proven guilty in a court of law via a fair trial.)  After our EB-5 visits in Southern Texas, the prospective EB-5 investor intended to continue his travel in the US to visit his child who is attending school in valid F-1 status, spending Father's Day there.   I had been previously told that his  considering an EB-5 came at the behest of his family, increasingly concerned for his welfare and safety given the situation in Mexico.  With the endemic violence, kidnappings, and corrupt political persecution, which is sending thousands of Mexicans northward (and EB-5 lawyers like me southward), immigrating to the U.S. is a very attractive option.
 
After several heated exchanges where at one point a CBP Supervisor to my face flatly denied the man had even asked for political asylum(!), MY U.S. passport was demanded, taken and photocopied; our Mexican taxi driver was ordered out of the van, the vehicle was driven off without explanation by a CBP officer, and when it returned awhile later, our briefcases and computers had been rifled through and luggage was torn apart in a search that yielded nothing but EB-5 Regional Center marketing pamphlets.  As I desperately tried on my cell phone outside of the CBP office (on US soil) to find a local deportation attorney (since I know zero about deportation law) or reach the Port Director's emergency contact number, I was stopped from using my phone three times by three different CBP officers brandishing large automatic weapons.  I asked them:
"Are you REALLY preventing a U.S. attorney from using a phone on U.S. soil outside of CBP offices??"
The answer, though unspoken, was a definitive "yes", and after the third ICE actually cocked his rifle, I put the phone away.  I can honestly say that in 26 years of working as an immigration attorney in both the U.S. government and in private practice, I have never witnessed a more flagrant and shameless abuse of the US Constitution.  In fact, the only other time I've been threatened at gunpoint was in Africa in Equatorial Guinea...by their customs officers, ironically enough.

Our research over the past two days suggests that systematic disregard of the U.S. Constitution and immigration laws is endemic and SOP at certain US/Mexico Ports of Entry.  I will be filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice to insure that those responsible for what happened this weekend are held accountable.  I am asking all AILA members who know me, or who read II, or who care about this barbaric situation to please join me in pursuing an aggressive effort by AILA National to insure this abuse is handled at the highest level possible in Washington.  I know one particular person in Washington who, like me, lists Abraham Lincoln at the very top of his hero list, and if the President had witnessed these events the way he was able to witness the take down of Bin Laden, heads would be rolling at the U.S. side of the border.

Last week, btw, this same absolute disregard of U.S. federal law by CBP resulted in the death of a 22 year old woman illegally forced back into Mexico by U.S. border agents.  The victim, who had been subjected to abuse and had a restraining order against her boyfriend, had multiple options in terms of relief from the immigration courts.  Like my client, she was not given access to counsel despite pleading for asylum given her fears and forced out of the US within hours. The immigrant right groups pursuing the matter say CBP actions cost the victim her life, stating that  "the improper shortcut proved fatal for the mother of three."  In AMERICA.  Hard to believe, right?  Not after my weekend.  See the full tragic story here:

Illegal CBP Deportation Gets 22 Year Old Woman Killed

If, on the one hand, our prospective EB-5 investor is unharmed and given a fair trial in Mexico (and irrespective of whether he is found innocent or guilty of financial irregularities), then CBP is accountable for policy violations, civil rights violations, and of violating the fundamental due process rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and those responsible should be held accountable.  In the recent case involving a border CBP officer who sexually assaulted a number of women, this is what the DOJ had to say:
“We will not tolerate law enforcement officers engaging in this behavior with institutionalized persons,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable individuals who abuse their position and authority in this manner.”
Let's hope so.  Because if, on the other hand, this man, who has not been charged with any crime whatsoever, is physically harmed in Mexico, his blood will be on the hands of those U.S. officials who willfully said "the hell with the Constitution and Due Process" during this most ugly week on the border.