Workers, Immigrant Rights Groups Protest “$500K Green Card” Program for Hotel

While San Francisco is celebrating the impending restoration of the Tenderloin’s Renoir Hotel by foreign investors seeking U.S. citizenship, hotel workers and immigrant rights groups today expressed reservations about the project.

Unite Here Local 2, the hotel workers’ union in San Francisco and San Mateo, joined representatives from immigrant rights groups today to rally against the city’s use of the federal visa program EB-5 and taxpayer dollars to fund the project at 45 McAllister St.

The groups also said that Kor Group, the investment firm redeveloping the hotel, has so far failed to sign agreements allowing its workers to unionize.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, EB-5 is a pathway to citizenship where foreign entrepreneurs and their families can apply for a green card if they make an investment of at least $500,000 toward a new commercial enterprise and create at least 10 jobs per $500,000 investment in the U.S.

However, organizers of today’s rally argued that EB-5 is an unjust policy since it favors the wealthy to be eligible for citizenship.

“What we have is a two-track immigration system,” said Wei Lee, an organizer with ASPIRE, a group representing undocumented Asian youth. “If you’re a millionaire, the U.S. government welcomes you with open arms. But if you’re one of the millions of immigrants who work hard in hotels, farms, and restaurants across this country, Congress has turned its back on you.”

The Kor Group has also refused to sign an agreement from the hotel workers’ union allowing its workers the right to organize free of retaliation and intimidation, union representatives said.

“The idea is that the money is supposed to create jobs but thus far no commitment from the developers to lead to good jobs at the hotel has been made,” said Lee Strieb, deputy director in the hotel development department at Unite Here Local 2.

“Most hotels in San Francisco are unionized, which means they have higher wages, very strong health and retirement benefits, a good voice on the job, and most are high quality jobs,” Strieb said.

The redevelopment project is also receiving tax breaks from the city normally allocated for projects demonstrated to help poor and struggling communities, according to organizers of today’s rally.

“We need to hold developers accountable, especially if they’re using taxpayer money,” said Tina Chen, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 2.

With Congress expected to renew EB-5 next month and the hotel expected to reopen in 2016, the union and immigrant rights groups called on the Kor Group to allow its workers the option to unionize and Congress to consider immigration reform that benefits not just the wealthy.

Rachel Matsuoka, Bay City News

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