BY CHERYL SLAVIN
The recent proposal by a Chinese investment group to develop a “China City of America” on 2,000 acres in nearby Sullivan County has stirred controversy among the locals and sent shock waves into Rockland about the extent to which unchecked foreign investment will alter the demographic, economic and political landscape in New York State and indeed, all of America. With programs such as the federal EB-5, which offers green cards to foreigners in exchange for investments and job creation, some fear that eventually Americans will become outsiders in their own country.
More than two decades ago, as the country faced an economic recession, Congress passed the EB-5 visa program which offers foreign investors—and their families—permanent residency upon the investment of either $500,000 or $1 million in economically depressed areas. For each $500,000 the investor must also guarantee the creation of at least 10 permanent jobs to be held by US citizens or permanent residents. As part of the program, the prospective investors must also apply to the USCIS to establish a “regional center” which would benefit from the influx of money.
About two years ago China City of America, LLC applied to establish such a regional center to encompass 2,000 acres in the towns of Thompson and Mamakating in Sullivan County. When the original plan, first presented last May, proved way too ambitious and intrusive for the residents of Mamakating, CCOA modified it to a mere 600 acre “China City of America” on the Thompson territory that would include a college, a high school, offices representing every province in China and housing for up to 1,000 families—all presumably to be occupied exclusively by the Chinese nationals who would invest in it. That, too, elicited opposition from environmental groups and raised flags for property rights activists.
“Foreign investors, especially the Chinese, have been making inroads all over America,” says Lynn Teger of Rocklanders for Property Rights. She has been tracking and documenting the growing numbers of such investors and is alarmed at the potential impact on American society.
“In 2013 8567 visas were granted through the EB-5 program, of which 6,900 were to Chinese nationals. Do we really want representatives of Communist China to have such an enormous presence in our country?” She also cites concerns about Chinese nationals becoming eligible for taxpayer funded government programs, thus siphoning money away from US companies and citizens, and she is suspicious whether foreign investors could be trusted to produce revenue for the municipalities which host them.
Teger points to other projects in New York alone which indicate increased foreign involvement. Chinese Linuo Solar Group now owns the former IBM complex in Poughkeepsie; recently it has started demolition of one of the buildings, a development she finds alarming as it might indicate the intent to diminish its tax levy. Chinese conglomerate Fosun International Ltd. recently purchased One Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York City from JR Morgan Chase Bank.
Closer to home, Rockland Executive Ed Day has indicated that he supports the possibility of Rockland becoming “globally competitive” noting on his Facebook page that he has been in discussion with at least two foreign investors for the county. And this past April Governor Cuomo announced that a regional center for EB-5 investors has been established to cover the eight counties of the Capital region as well as some counties in the Southern Tier—of which Sullivan is a part.
For now it seems that this regional center is separate and distinct from that which the COAA is seeking, and which it apparently has not yet succeeded in securing. Meantime, according to Thompson Town Supervisor William Reiber, the COAA has again modified its plans, and now proposes only to build a college on the property. He says it is too early yet to know what the Board’s response will be. The main concerns, however, are twofold: how to define the density of the project in order to determine zoning requirements; and how to determine the fate the pristine Harlan Swamp wetlands which cover a great deal of the 600 acres. A “scoping session” will be held soon to set out what departments and agencies need to get involved in the project, but that is no guarantee that it will ever go forward.
Regardless of the size of the project, critics such as David North of the Center for Immigration Studies and economic blogger Michael Snyder continue to raise concerns about the EB-5 program and China City of America. They question whether the number of jobs and economic benefits actually created for the localities are in fact far smaller than what the government would have citizens believe. They also do not support granting green cards to foreign nationals whose loyalties and priorities are questionable. As they point to the growing number of enclaves such as China City in America—from California to Michigan to Texas to Tennessee, to name a few—they contend that if the trend of foreign investment linked to immigrant visas continues, Americans might become outsiders in their own country.