The New — and Rich — Immigrants from Mexico: How Their Money is Changing Texas

Fearful of the rampant criminality in their country, many of the well-to-do are leaving Mexico for safer communities in the U.S.—and investing huge sums in order to qualify for visas to stay.

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Brandon Thibodeaux for TIME

Mauricio Martín with his daughters, Vera, 3, and Emilia, 6, outside of their home in The Woodlands, Texas, on Jan. 9, 2013.

In a land haunted by frequent mass murders, a kidnapping may seem a small thing, but to Mauricio Martín it was a moment that altered his life’s trajectory. Cartel thugs snatched his brother from the streets of Mexico City five years ago and demanded bribes until granting his safe return six weeks later. “After that, everywhere I went I was a little scared. My children were not free to go anywhere,” Martín says now from his posh home in a suburb north of Houston.

But he’s been in Texas only six months. He stuck it out for years in Mexico City following his brother’s kidnapping. The last straw? Bad business. “In business and government there’s a lot of corruption, so everything you try to do there you have to pay bribes or do things that are not right, so there’s a lot of obstacles,” he says.

He has joined a small exodus of wealthy Mexican migrants weary of fearing for their lives and battling corrupt officials for business interests. The flight may mean a brain drain for Mexico and a boon for regional Texas economies. Many of these well-to-do immigrants are foregoing traditional destinations such as San Antonio and San Diego in favor of big business markets in Dallas and Houston.

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They’re ramrodding stereotypes along the way, forking over big bucks and filling entire neighborhoods of million-dollar homes, often paying with cash. Last year the home builders at Toll Brothers sold some 20% of their luxury homes in Houston to Mexican nationals. Division president Karl Mistry says that, no surprise,security and privacy are major draws.

Martín, who still maintains his rubber manufacturing plant in Mexico City while running his own real estate company in Houston, approximates that 70% of his affluent neighborhood is comprised of folks like himself. As new stories of horrific violence circulate through their ranks,their numbers continue to grow. Meanwhile, their counterparts in Dallas have taken to calling themselves migrantes fresas, which literally means “strawberry migrants.” The word fresa (strawberry) is supposedly used to describe high society.

“It’s not the same migration we’re used to seeing, low-income families migrating to the U.S., undocumented, looking for any type of job,” says Dallas realtor Raul Arriaga. “They are well-educated, they have money, they come here with EB-5 visas.”

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The visas are for sale, though the price is steep – creating 10 jobs and investing a cool million, or, if the candidate chooses to put his or her money in a high-unemployment area, a bargain $500,000. The program has been around since 1992, but recent improvements have led to increased use over the past few years (though the national annual limit of 10,000 EB-5 visas has yet to be reached).

Since February 2010 Mexican investors have poured nearly $45 million into Dallas via the EB-5, constructing the likes of an upscale taco restaurant, a boutique hotel in long-neglected South Dallas and the newest development, a 21-story residential tower in swanky uptown Dallas that will create 1,000 jobs.

Asian investors still claim the lion’s share of foreign investment in the city, but Mexican doctors, lawyers and business people are emphatic about their role in the region’s future. “Instead of taking money out of the United States and into Mexico, it’s going to be the other way around,” says the realtor Arriaga. “Mexico is going to bring a lot of money right here into the United States of America.”

Can a country teetering on the edge afford the loss? “You really want human and physical capital to flow into Mexico, not out of Mexico, because it is a poorer country than the United States,” says Pia Orrenius, an immigration expert at the Dallas Federal Reserve. “I think they’re really flowing the opposite direction than they should, as a result of the violence and insecurity of Mexico.”

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Daniel Healy says it’s not a zero-sum game, and he promises that it’s good for business on both sides of the border. As chief of the Civitas Capital Group, he sends teams to dangle the pricey green cards in front of wealthy Mexican audiences and orchestrate their investments once they sign on. “What it does is it facilitates cross-border business,” Healy says. “They tend to be entrepreneurs and business owners who have been successful in Mexico. Often they come here, start businesses here, or expand their businesses here, and that ends up benefiting both the U.S. and Mexico because the ties grow tighter.”

Concerned for Mexico’s future, many of the new migrants remain skeptical of the nascent presidency of Pena Nieto. “I still haven’t seen enough,” says Dallas-based lawyer Adriana Contreras. “Things can’t just change overnight. I need to see something other than words.”

It’s unclear whether the exodus will grow large enough to transform either economy, but it may yet prove transformative if the Mexican government is spurred to lure back their best and brightest.

What would it take? “In Mexico my children could not go alone to the park and ride their bicycles,” says Mauricio Martín, reflecting on his six months in the U.S. “They can do that here.”

MORE: Immigrants Outpacing the Rest of Us in Small Business Ownership

56 comments
alexloscabos
alexloscabos

The "HORRORS" that hapen in Mexico are betwen drug dealers, yes they kill eachother; but in the U.S. hapens betwen young students. The weapons come from the same place by the way. 

JesusCarrillo
JesusCarrillo

Fresas doesn't mean high society! It's a derogatory term for people who try to hard too at being high society typically from Mexico city.

MichaelFjetland
MichaelFjetland

Same old Mexico - too few wealthy at the top controlling, MONOPOLIZING various industries, with corrupt politicians and police.  "Trickle Down" DOESN"T work and Mexico is a prime example.

We have seen the same trend in the USA under the GOP - which led to  a recession. Now those rich homes in the US are being broken into (usually via the cheap glass). It's providing a lot of business for my company, Armor Glass.

oscarmrquezmees
oscarmrquezmees

Regardless of the general opinion Mexico, has always been a great source of wealth to the US. Wether in commodities, cheap labour and now even private equity source. The reality is that both our economies are entangled together for centuries, as a Mexican (still in Mexico) I am firm believer that having well off mexicans in the US is great for both countries: No damage for the mexican economy, on the contrary it creates bridges that have been broken by prejudice and racism in the past, and generates the opportunity for the creation of a real economic region!!

vsigma
vsigma

As long as they're immigrating legally and they're productive, I can't complain.  Welcome!

JeremiahBoughton
JeremiahBoughton

The article title and article body fail to mention "Rich Legal Immigrants"!!!  Nobody has a problem with legal immigrants!  It is illegal immigrants !!!! Liberal Media and Activists love to distort truth and reality! 

TogTinMoses
TogTinMoses

Those guys really do seem to know whats going on over there.

okAnon.tk

KevinJimenez
KevinJimenez

This is a very pretty way of speaking of Mexico. I'd like to point out that Mexico is a great country, that I know many fascinating, hard-working, honest Mexicans and that I'm a very proud Mexican. Sadly, not only do we have to battle crimes and corruption but our society as well. Unlike in the States, where you have breathtaking customer service nearly everywhere, we Mexicans have to deal with terrible moods, unhappy employees, lazy jerks that don't really care what they do... uneducated, not very nice people. However, I'm very happy to see smart, educated and capable Mexicans working and improving their lives and impacting many others. 

Felicidades!

Kevin Jimenez

Cancun, Mexico

Mikal
Mikal

what I don't get is how Americans could fight with other Americans for the interest of foreigners.You would think we could have a  say and representation  

sonoferebus
sonoferebus

I dont know why are so much hate towards mexico, you write about inmigrants and corruption, US was founded by inmigrants, and they stole most of mexico, florida from spain, orleans from frenchs, even alaska from russia, Latinos make all the jobs that nobody wants to do, most of them mexicans, they cook, clean, and plant and grown vegetables, you shouldnt be so hateful towards latinos, and the US goverment and particulars are making a hell of a money by selling assault weapons to the mafias so the violence in a way is partly because US dont have a strong guns policy

mime
mime

All that blood dripping drug money made them very rich indeed. Now they come to the U.S. to enjoy their hard earned money.


p_incorrect
p_incorrect

Poverty and welfare in the context of Mexican immigration http://cis.org/node/3876#poverty . The comparison of the poverty/welfare rates of Mexicans with same rates in people from Germany, Japan or India is astonishing. It should be food for thought for those Mexican suckers that have written here.

dovetailed
dovetailed

We are not seeing them here in San Antonio; on the contrary, just illegals who just look for freebies.

antonmarq
antonmarq

No brainer, porque son pendejos. 

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

I bet that for every EB-5 immigrant from Mexico, there are thousands (probably tenths of thousands) of Mexicans who are here illegally sucking from the welfare state. So even if we were to put all Mexicans in the same bag (and I am not saying that this is what should be done), they are still overwhelmingly parasitic.

LaCindy
LaCindy

@JeremiahBoughton How does the story fail to mention they are legal when it explains their visas for three paragraphs? 

Mikal
Mikal

@sonoferebusI don't know any job Americans wont do , since we built  this country in the first place.We have a problem with anyone who disrespects out laws, forces us to hit 2 for English, and they don't assimilate. They stick to their own kind, and wont practice enough English.I also don't think we're being fair to ANY OTHER RACE who wants to be here, because the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are stealing their  spot. I could go on, but I don't think you want to know why we object, I think you're just frustrated that we do

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

@mime In case anyone asks how you know this; tell them:  George Friedman wrote about it in his book "The Next Decade."   As for claiming they only provide a service for domestic demand; tell them:  Then they don't mind if we treat them all as illegals as they are admitting that what they do best is break the law.

oscarmrquezmees
oscarmrquezmees

Veery dumb!!! Even if that was true (which is not)....let's not forget....that drug money comes from the drugs you snort, smoke and inject...... The addiciton to drugs is not on mexican turf. You make the market, we provide the service!!

gilby
gilby

how do you know that? do you also think that Carlos Slim (riches man in the world for several years) also made his fortune in drugs?

Mexico has a booming economy. Perhaps it's news to you but southamericans and central americans (and now spaniards) are rushing to go work in Mexico. Perhaps it's also news to you that net mexican immigration to this country is either zero or negative.

Just stating a few facts.

gilby
gilby

try citing a credible source. This article comes from a group that is well known to be anti-immigrant.

RaulOrtega
RaulOrtega

Maybe you live on the wrong side of town? Where I live I see lots of them. Sorry you get to live in a RV while we Mexicans move into the more affluent neighborhoods in NW San Antonio.

Yasabras123
Yasabras123

@dovetailed Stone Oak = Little Monterrey.  No wonder Stone Oak is the poshest side of town.

gilby
gilby

I'm not sure if what you say is true but numbers alone don't tell the whole story. During the last election cycle (47% comment from Roney) it came out that the majority of welfare, don't pay income tax Americans, were in southern states which are majority Repulican which is not the party of the Latinos. In addition, don't you have to have a green card/citizenship to get welfare? and a social security?

RaulOrtega
RaulOrtega

Sorry to hear you are so bitter about the status quo. Hope you get a decent paying job some day and move upward socially and economically. In the meantime, please continue enjoying your cheap beer and keep on using other people to help you escape from the frustration of being such a loser. I feel sorry for you.

cloazul
cloazul

Kellogg Brown and Root is a parasite. And by the way, a tenth of a thousand is a hundred.

Yasabras123
Yasabras123

@p_incorrect Parasitic how?  We work jobs you're sorry ass couldn't do, then we turn around and invest millions?  You lazy, white people who feel entitled are what's keeping this country down.  Mexicans are the engine of this country and the world knows it.

sonoferebus
sonoferebus

@Mikal @sonoferebus Dont get me wrong I love america, i love to go 4 times a year to vegas, and some of my best friends are american citizens, i have an hotel in america, i love amercia, but, its not frustrated, its just unfair in the news and images they treat latinos like hunting dogs, expelling sons of illegal immigrants from school that are amercians, denaying medical asistance, and the jobs i mean, is the kitchens in restaraunts with 4 dolars an hour, the house cleanin, gardening, and cultivating all the fruit a vegetables that look so nice in the stores, youre are right in one thing, it would be the best that they can get they working visa, i work with an agency that get poor people the working visa, because in mexico the average pay day is 4 dolars, thats what is the very least in america, but, the ones that got inthere without a visa is because the dont have the money to tramit the working visa, that is not an excuse, but try to be empatic and think, they only trying to give their families, a better life, food, medicines, education, etc...  

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@RaulOrtega  what are you talking about moron? I am fortunate (and I have worked very hard for it) to be in the upper part of the food chain. I pay more way more taxes than I should to subsidize these illegals. I am probably subsidizing you as well.

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@cloazul @p_incorrect, idiot, it is not my problem if your English skills are limited. Tenths of thousands is correct English for referring to several 10000s, like 20000, 30000, etc. I stand by that claim. It's not even hard to prove. There are ~ 7 million illegal Mexicans in the US. Even if there were 200 of these EB-5, that's 30000 illegals per EB-5. I would argue that the majority of those 30000 are parasitic to the state.

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@Yasabras123 @p_incorrect Several points. First, I didn't say that every illegal sucks welfare dollars nor that every Mexican American does the same. I said that as a group, Mexican Americans take more money from welfare than the money the pay in taxes (even illegals have to pay sales taxes). There are tons of rigorous studies that back that up. So the net contribution of Mexican Americans to public dollars is negative, which is my claim and I stand by that claim. A different matter is that surely there are Mexican Americans who do not follow this average pattern or that the US does need the cheap labor provided by illegal Mexican immigrants and that probably a legal reform that allows them to become legal is in order. However, when it comes to balance with respect to public dollars, you guys are parasitic.This article has a headline that is utterly misleading (you couldn't expect less from a liberal magazine though).

Mikal
Mikal

@sonoferebus @Mikal Fair point.We can't forget the ones who are in the system and play by the rules, and trade them for the ones, who didn't.I agree with you on a few things..If we had a better working visa system, this could let the people who just want to work and help their families.I think Republicans should/can get on board with that initiative, but then they don't get any rights to vote.The people in the system and payed their dues, they get the benefits..Someone on a working visa should also pay for health insurance, so they put in, and they can benefit, when thy need it. I don't have all the answers, just some thought..Take care my friend! 

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@cloazul  @RaulOrtega Again you are mistaken. The defense budget is ~ 600 billion dollars a year. The welfare payments (outside medicare and social security) last year went above 1 trillion dollars last year. It's welfare that it's bankrupting the US, not defense spending. And I remind you that defense spending is necessary to maintain the US competitive advantage in the world (of which the rest derives). But payments in welfare to illegal Mexicans give us nothing back in return.

cloazul
cloazul

@p_incorrect @RaulOrtega for every cent in tax you pay that goes to "welfare" that certainly has the potential for abuse, you spend a dollar for a weapon system cost over run on a no bid cost plus contract. 


p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@SamuelBurns@p_incorrect@cloazul@RaulOrtegaAnd I forgot to add. When I said "Yet, one is screwed, the other is not. Reaching the conclusion that the Spanish culture is basically a corrupt one is not even hard" I would have had to add, AND THAT'S THE REASON THESE HISPANICS WANT TO ESCAPE THOSE CORRUPT COUNTRIES in the the first place. So this moronic idea that I have to respect the Spanish culture because "all cultures were created equal" is complete nonsense. Not even the morons that come here illegally believe that. And yet, they want to impose on our country the idiotic culture they are running away from in the first place.

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@SamuelBurns @p_incorrect @cloazul @RaulOrtega What race are you talking about? I am talking about the Spanish culture, the same that has brought down countries regardless of their underlying ethnic majorities. Latin America is as mixed, ethnically speaking, as you can get. There are indigenous peoples of all kinds of origins, whites, blacks.... Yet, without a doubt, all Latin American countries are ruined from an economic point of view. In Latin America the contest is not screwed vs non screwed. The contest is about who is less screwed. Not to mention the originators of the pathetic Hispanic culture (Spain, Portugal and to a lesser degree Italy). They brought their countries to ruin in spite of European Union influence because the Hispanic culture is fundamentally a corrupt one. I don't want my country being brought to the ground the same way that every other country that has been significantly influenced by the Hispanic culture has. Rio Grande is more than a geographical accident. It separates two very different cultures. One is prosperous, democratic and abides by the rule of law (despite the many other differences between Canada and the different US states). The other only brings poverty, totalitarianism and corruption. The Anglo-Saxons arrived to the North of Rio Grande about the same time the Spanish/Portuguese arrived to its South. Both sides have enormous natural resources. Yet, one is screwed, the other is not. Reaching the conclusion that the Spanish culture is basically a corrupt one is not even hard.

gilby
gilby

I believe you're correct. Perhaps he doesn't know the different between your and you're as well?

SamuelBurns
SamuelBurns

@p_incorrect @cloazul @RaulOrtega And there it goes. I was wondering how long it would be before p_incorrect couldn't hold the racism inside anymore.

And yes, p_incorrect, you are a racist. Taking moral credit for being an American and dishing moral blame for being a Mexican is idiotic; neither Americans nor Mexicans had any say in where they were born. The definition of racism is issuing moral judgement on someone based on an identity that they have no control over. Your ignorant comments about Spanish culture don't even need any comment.

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@cloazul @RaulOrtega Gringo whatever, I make more money than you will ever make. I am also an American citizen while you come from one of the most corrupt societies in the planet: Mexico. Keep your Mexican corruption for yourselves. We've been doing very well without your idiotic Spanish culture.

cloazul
cloazul

@RaulOrtega no mames raulito, we got somebody who is not only politically incorrect, but has got some basic math deficiencies. Take if from a pinch E  gringo

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@RaulOrtega So you are one of those parasites that lives out of my money. Pathetic. You should be deported, moron.

RaulOrtega
RaulOrtega

You should try tens of thousands instead? Take it from an illegal Mexican who hardly  knows how to spell his name in English.

johannsawyer
johannsawyer

@p_incorrect @Yasabras123 Parasitic? This coming from some guy whose ancestors raped and pillaged the Native Peoples of North, South, and Mesoamerica. You took everything they had and continue to use the backs of the poor to build your nation. You are the parasite sir. And Obviously you can not read. Only 25 percent of all immigrants (40 Million) are Mexican. Of that 25 percent, 57 percent are on welfare. I Suggest you learn to read without spin doctoring.

p_incorrect
p_incorrect

@Yasabras123@p_incorrectI am a Republican, of course. It's the only sane party to be in. About studies, there are many, here is a recent one http://www.examiner.com/article/fifty-seven-percent-of-mexican-immigrants-on-welfare "Fifty-seven percent of Mexican immigrants on welfare". Note that those on welfare do not pay any taxes. You should add to that 57% those Mexicans that do not pay income taxes even though they might not be in welfare. You are, as a class of people, PARASITIC.

Yasabras123
Yasabras123

@p_incorrect @Yasabras123 Several things.  One, If you made illegals legal they wouldn't be very cheap now would they?  Two, please back up your claim that there are tons of rigorous studies that back up the supposed fact that Mexcan Americans take more money from welfare than we contribute.  Haha.  Three, you writing off Time as liberal just showed me and everyone else on this board why no matter what I say, you will continue to view me as a parasite.  You are a Republican.

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