The U.S. keeps erecting immigration barriers. Rich elites can maneuver around them

President Donald Trump won the White House — and is trying to do it again — in large part by railing against “sanctuary cities,” refugees and other immigrants.

His “great, great wall,” funded by taxpayers, not Mexico, is progressing slowly though recently sullied by a scandal involving his former campaign chief, Steve Bannon. He has sharply increased fees for asylum seekers and green-card applicants and torn apart families at the border. If his predecessor, Barack Obama, earned the nickname “deporter in chief,” Trump has carried antipathy toward immigrants to uncharted heights.

But as it has over many years and administrations, one group continues to mostly slip through the cracks: Latin American elites, including a who’s who of Miami-based high-ranking government officials and business tycoons, often stay a step ahead of legal authorities. They are able to leverage their fortunes and connections to secure visas, green cards and asylum.

(Although President Trump halted most forms of legal immigration in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in September Congress voted to extend funding for the controversial EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program through December.)

An investigation by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, in conjunction with Mexico’s Aristegui Noticias and a group of independent journalists in Colombia, documents how rich foreign nationals from Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, guided by a network of lawyers, real estate agents and bankers, have managed to stiff-arm U.S. immigration authorities and build up their financial portfolios while thwarting prosecutors back home.

Manuel Antonio Baldizón Méndez, 50, is a textbook kleptocrat.

In early 2015, the former Guatemalan senator was on a glide path to the presidency — despite rumors that drug clans had funded his rise.

Confident of victory, he traveled to the United States in February of that year for a pre-election tour. The reception included a meeting with Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana but soon to be tagged as Donald Trump’s running mate. Baldizón’s son Jorge was an intern for Pence.

By Romina Ruiz-Goiriena for Miami Herald
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