E-2 Treaty Investor visas and food stamp fraud go hand-in-hand

I’ve mentioned my theory from time to time that the convenience store food stamp scams occuring across the country are linked to the E-2 Treaty Investor program of the US State Department (see my first mention here in 2008).  Yes, yes to all the purists reading this who will ask what does this have to do with refugees, my answer is not a whole lot except that the food stamp use by refugees is rising and they make good targets for scammers.

If you are a regular reader you’ll know that I follow food stamp fraud as a side interest.  I’m not talking about the fraud that involves buying the ‘wrong’ or illegal food with the stamps, I’m talking about the practice of swapping stamps for cash.  The store owner/manager gives the holder of the stamps 50 cents on the dollar and then turns around and gets the full dollar reimbursed by the federal government.  It is a multi-million dollar fraud perpetrated against the US taxpayer.

What started me on my latest inquiry was this story in February from Latin America News Dispatch about how Mexicans with a little cash could get into the US as E-2 Treaty Investors (and bring the family!).

Jorge’s story began with a car chase where bad guys in Mexico were after him. He ends up in the safety of a police station and that is where we pick up his story:

“I was told that as soon as I left they could not guarantee that I would live.” They asked Jorge if he wanted to be taken to the airport or the U.S.-Mexican border.

Even though Jorge’s life was threatened in Mexico and he fears returning, he does not want to risk losing his tourist visa in the United States by applying for political asylum or refugee status.

Holders of tourist visas in the U.S. who apply for asylum risk losing those visas if their case is denied, according to San Diego immigration attorney Jacob Sapochnick. Applying for refugee or asylum status demonstrates the intention to stay permanently in the U.S. — a measure used by the State Department as the basis to deny a tourist visa, Sapochnick says.

Those who have “a well-founded fear of persecution based on at least one of five internationally recognized grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” can apply for asylum and refugee status, according to a 2005 U.S. Justice Department report. [By the way, using Mexican violence as a reason to seek asylum in the US is increasing, as I mentioned here just over a week ago.]

Yet it is often very difficult for asylum and refugee status to be granted. “Just witnessing a crime will not be sufficient. But, for example, former police high-ranking officers, government employees that were targeted could be potentially good candidates,” said Sapochnick.

One option available to wealthy Mexicans who flee the violence in their country is to apply for an E-2 or Investor’s Visa.

Since 1994, Mexico has been a so-called Treaty Country, making its residents eligible for E-2 visas. While the State Department only says that the investment needed must be “substantial,” Sapochnick says that a recommended investment varies between 50,000 to 100,000 dollars.

Here is the State Department site for what an E-2 Treaty Investor needs to buy his way into the US.   Some of my research indicated one could have as little as $25,000 to invest in a business.  The applicant can bring his or her spouse and children under 21.  The business needs to generate income for the family and preferably have an employee or two.

Have you been wondering why every mom and pop gas station, convenience store, little restaurant is run by certain ethnic immigrants? Well, this is the answer!  They are probably E-2 Treaty Investors!

Here are the countries from which the “investors” can come to America.

Scroll down through this chart and note that 25,000-30,000 of these non-immigrant visas are granted each year.  They are called ‘non-immigrant’ but treaty investors need only reapply every 2 years and can stay forever.

So where is the connection to convenience stores?  In my research last night I visited several immigration law firms which help E-2 Treaty Investors get their visas and sure enough just about all of them mention the sorts of investments available to “Investors” and convenience stores are right up at the top of the list.

Here is a lawfirm in Houston that suggests convenience store ownership.  Here is one in Los Angeles that will help immigrant “investors” get their visa and open a convenience store.  And then, here, is a one stop shopping outfit in Florida called “Business Brokers of America” that tells you how to get your E-2 Treaty visa and links to stores for sale (see search for a business to buy in the left column).

Here is a website, Visa Pro, where you can just start applying for an E-2 Investor visa for a cool $1,950.  You don’t even need to mess around with the US State Department!

So where do we have recent arrests for scams?—convenience stores!  Use our search function for ‘food stamp fraud’ and note that busts of immigrant-run convenience stores are a frequent occurance. Here are three recent ones.

Florida (Ethiopians) food stamps

Ohio (Arabs) stolen goods

Michigan (Middle Easterners) food stamps

Speaking of Michigan!  This is a story I came across two years ago and thought was so funny that I’m posting it here again!  It’s from the Arab American News and they are perplexed as to why all the food stamp busts occurring at that time involved all people with Arab names (duh!).   If you wonder why we are screwed up in this country the political correctness of this guy in the Attorney General’s office says it all!  The biker gang analogy!  Give me a break!

DEARBORN Twenty seven people arrested by state police in February for alleged food card fraud all seem to be of Arab descent, judging by their namesall recognizable Arab family names.

But a spokesperson for Attorney General Mike Cox’s office said that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem specific to the Arab American community.

“Folks who commit crimes together usually have a common link,” said spokesman Matt Frendewey.

Sometimes that link, he said, is a common ethnicity. He compared it to biker gangs, often made up entirely of white males, who might commit crimes together.

“It would be very inaccurate to say that it speaks to the Arab American community.”

Frendewey said it was never even apparent to the attorney general’s office that that all those involved were Arab Americans until pointed out by The Arab American News.

The 27 suspects owners and employees of eight Detroit party stores and gas stations are accused of engaging in more than $1.5 million worth of illegal dealing in food card benefits.

Maybe the “common link” is the E-2 Treaty Investor program of the US State Department!  Is it possible that agents abroad are directing would-be shop owners to America for the lucrative food stamp fraud business?

What can you do if you think a small grocery store, gas station  or convenience store looks suspicious? Tell your local police department and urge them to set up a sting.   What might tip you off—one of the first things that investigators notice is that traffic to the store has increased while the shelves are sparsely stocked.

Endnote: Anyone working with refugees should alert them to this scam so that they don’t try to turn their food stamps into cash because they too can go to jail or be fined for participating.