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COURSEY: The price of freedom

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...

And if they've got a half-million bucks, bring them to the front of the line.

The first sentence is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, and supposedly represents America's status as a beacon of freedom and prosperity, where anyone from anywhere has an opportunity for new opportunities.

The second sentence is the message sent by an immigration law that grants visas, permanent U.S. residency and a chance at U.S. citizenship to individuals who invest $500,000 or more in an American business enterprise.

Oh, say, can you see that America is for sale?

That's the message in a story from the New York Times, also published on Page A3 of today's Press Democrat, describing the $865 million transformation of a small corner of rural Vermont. The entrepreneurs behind the huge development plans are counting on foreign investors — specifically foreign investors seeking to obtain a green card in exchange for their cash — to finance their enterprise.

Bill Stenger, the former ski instructor who is a partner in the deal, says he already has attracted 550 foreign investors from 60 countries, raising $275 million toward his goal. And he's not the only one. Where just six years ago only about 800 of these types of visas were issued, this year the government issued nearly 8,000.

Stenger told the Times that it's not really fair to say that these folks are buying their way into the country. Instead, he said, they should be viewed as people "investing in products and programs that are having a tremendously positive impact on the community."

The visa program requires that the investment create jobs. Ironically, many of the jobs created at Stenger's ski resort, indoor mountain bike park, restaurants and hotels will be seasonal service jobs with low pay and few benefits — the kind of jobs often worked by illegal immigrants who face huge financial and bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining legal status.

Breathing free may be nice, but it ain't cheap.


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