What happens when you bring three controversial federal programs together in a single project?
These are the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the funding of charter schools, and the operation of private-for-profit penal institutions.
The main part of the EB-5 program, which gives green cards to aliens who put up a bunch of money invested in Homeland Security-approved projects, was suspended by Congress for most of the past year. Each investment (set at $500,000 in this case) is supposed to produce 10 jobs.
Whether or not charter schools are a good idea, investing in them creates no new jobs, as the EB-5 program requires; it simply moves them from the public to the private sector, a fundamental fact that DHS ignores.
While CIS has no position in favor of, or opposed to, private-for-profit jails, I personally find their operation a questionable policy.
With that as background, let’s look at Cambio Academy in Winnsboro, S.C., in which all three programs are involved. It is listed by the .Education Fund of America, an EB-5 middleman agency, as one of its operating projects. It is a charter school, and appears to be an institution for troubled and difficult young people. When you look up Cambio on the internet you run into these headlines:
- ”Cambio riot leads to jailing of 7 teens”;
- ”Cambio is the source of ire for residents”; and
- “Four Cambio juveniles arrested”.
All of these were in the local paper, the Voice of Blythewood and Fairfield County.
Looking further on the internet, one finds another, perhaps less credible, measure: how people involved think of the place; the 12 Google reviews give it 2.3 points out of 5.0, and include such comments as: “I hated it there,” “I DO NOT recommend sending a child there for any reason,” and “This facility is run by quality management,” with the negative notes being both more numerous and less literate than the positive ones. I, for one, find it odd that an institution with lots of negative comments does not try to balance them with more cheerful ones.
When we at CIS tried to find out if Cambio is still in business, as the Education Fund of America listing suggests it is, we ran into a wall of silence. The local public-school system, which helps fund it, would not tell us if it is still in operation. Cambio does not have a website, unlike most other schools on the EFA listing. Cambio does not answer the phone and you can't leave a message because the mailbox is full.
The EFA listing for Cambio says that $1.5 million in EB-5 funds were invested in the place. Whether the three alien investors got their money back is unknown, nor is it known whether they got green cards.
Meanwhile, another EFA-funded charter, while still listed by EFA as operational, has gone out of business. This is the St. Cloud Preparatory Academy in St. Cloud, Fla. It was started with $2 million in EB-5 money.
The author is grateful to CIS intern Gabriel Millar for his research assistance.