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.

  • Share
  • Read Later
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.

(PHOTOS: Marisol and the American Dream: One Photographer’s 15-Year Project)

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.”

(VIDEO: Undocumented Immigrants: Google+ Hangout)

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.”

(MORE: Gov’t Spent $18 Billion on Immigration Enforcement)

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

65 comments
margaret.howard293@gmail.com
margaret.howard293@gmail.com

This has been an ongoing problem in USA...if you are an illegal immigrant on our soil you have to apply for citizenship and become an American to live and work here. If an American went to Mexico wouldn't we have to do the same thing? Get a job and to live? OK then So ....why are the elite Mexicans buying visas for coming to USA.... is there something illegal they are doing probably so.... not all own businesses....cartel yes....coverup/ red tape ....yes....so What do we do USA? SayNo. There should be investigations by our government into those matters. And not allowed to live here. We can go on about this or choose No can't come here....any 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.

PeteMcNesbitt
PeteMcNesbitt

Sort of turns all the conventional wisdom of the teapublican's on its head, about how only evil is coming north across the border...

RicardoAcosta
RicardoAcosta

Most (but not all) of this mexican "fresas" or strawberry migrants made their money by being part of the same corruption that was and is common in Mexico. Simply, they are wealthy enough or with businesses than can be managed from another country to support a life in the U.S.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,125 other followers