Those Enterprising Immigrants: One Story
There are two sides to
every question, except immigration, where
there`s only a good side, according the
Establishment media—witness Newsweek`s
recent paean to South Asian immigrants. Here
we make a small, anecdotal effort to redress the
Yukon cold in the winter? Cold? No, not really. It`s
person speaking was my former roommate, a South Asian
immigrant whom I will call Sam. He was trying to
persuade another Indian immigrant in his employ to go
work in Canada`s Yukon territories. The job the man was
to take was to start in September and was to run through
the end of February. The would-be
contract worker was from
southern India. Having never seen snow, he was
afraid of going some place icy. This fear was
exacerbated by the man`s inability to drive—a
requirement in the northern stretch of the
Yukon to which Sam wished to send him.
know it must seem hard to believe that anyone could
really say that the Yukon wasn`t especially cold in the
winter. But those were Sam`s words. My ex-roommate`s
business was to locate
computer programmers in
remote locales, and he was making a sale—a sale,
which, if completed, would be highly
profitable for him.
cannot claim that the story of Sam is entirely
representative of the behavior of
immigrant entrepreneurs. But that
immigrant business practices may not be ones which
we would like to become commonplace in America should be
pretty obvious to anyone who has observed immigrant-run
small and medium-sized businesses.
Yes, but at what do they work and what
sort of businesses are they running?
they paying taxes? Are they abiding by work-place safety
rules? Do they treat customers and workers fairly?
Perhaps because of indolence as much as political
correctness, few academics have studied the ways in
which immigrant businessmen operate within and
outside the law.
Superficially, the case of my ex-roommate would seem to
buttress the immigrant-entrepreneur mantra. An Ivy
League graduate, Sam is the son of an
Indian Brigadier General and his wife, an
import-export heiress. And Sam`s business was
first met him in January of 1991 when he was returning
to college, following an unexplained absence. It
subsequently turned out that he had dropped out to
travel around the American West, deal drugs at rock
shows and participate in orgies at a New Age resort.
had not reported his decision to leave school to
immigration authorities, and his visa was not in order.
During this time, he was apprehended by police in
California with quantities of psilocybin that he
intended to sell and was thrown in jail for a month.
bail, he fled the jurisdiction and went back to
school. A confusion on the part of his arresting
officers as to what his surname was permitted him to
avoid arrest warrants for a period of years.
After school, Sam went to Chicago to work as a computer
programmer for a bond firm. While there, he decided to
become licensed to work in trading activities and
provided his fingerprints to the
Securities and Exchange Commission—at which point
authorities uncovered his flight from prosecution in
But, to his good fortune, the local prosecutor he
encountered on his return to California was a graduate
of the same Ivy League college. Seeing Sam`s arrival in
a nicely-cut suit, the district attorney chose to let
the poor young immigrant go with a suspended sentence.
More, the prosecutor persuaded the presiding magistrate
to seal the records to the case.
Soon thereafter, Sam relocated to New York, a city he
supposed had more “action.”
New York he met an American diplomat, on his way to a
foreign assignment, and befriended him. Charmed by the
seemingly young man, the diplomat asked him to house-sit
his Upper West Side penthouse apartment. Sam swore that
he would do his best to take care of it.
However, once the diplomat had left the country, Sam
invited me and a woman to move in and pay him rent for
rooms in the apartment. In addition, he commenced
throwing drug-fueled parties for his friends. During
these, rare antiques in the apartment were destroyed.
Sam`s first job in New York was as a programmer
developing risk models for a
Wall Street firm. It would have been a great
opportunity for any serious young
programmer and his pay was considerable. His
performance on the job, however, was such that he
ultimately had to be dismissed and escorted out of the
building by security personnel. (Yet Sam had, in fact,
already managed to steal company records in anticipation
of his dismissal.)
But, though Sam had failed out at the Wall Street firm
and spent time in jail, it was the late 1990s—a time of
opportunity for entrepreneurs. The economy was desperate
computer programmers. Sam decided that he had the
contacts and the moxie to go into business. Sam`s father
had recently retired from the Indian army, and the two
connived to set up a firm specializing in arranging for
the importation of Indian computer specialists under
U.S. technical visas.
laws in India at that time allowed firms set up to
arrange for such transfers to take their would-be
employees` passports—in effect, taking
control of their futures. Sam`s father used his
previous army rank to gain the trust of novice Indian
programmers and then got them to give him these
then was to make the “sales” of the programmers`
services in the United States and Canada.
save money, Sam began having the programmers come and
live on the floors of the apartment he had promised to
house-sit. When they were waiting for job assignments,
he would have them practice working with unfamiliar
software that he was promising companies that the
programmers already knew. In their remaining time, he
would have the techies perform menial chores—sweeping
and making him meals. For food, he gave them the
cheapest junk foods.
When the co-op building learned what was happening and
threw Sam out, he took to housing his employees in cheap
motels, cramming in as many as he could in each.
Sam`s former right-hand man says that his constant
scheming and lying to clients eventually ruined the
company`s reputation and its business. Similarly, the
employees I spoke to that he had brought in to the U.S.
were extremely bitter and angry about the way they had
Sam today claims that, while the late-1990`s
boom lasted, he made enormous amounts of money.
Later, when the Internet boom peaked, Sam worked with
other immigrant acquaintances to set up
fraudulent internet stock companies.
spite of all this, Sam did eventually receive his
green card and he has stayed here. However, uneasy
with the independence of
American women, he brought a bride over from India
to be his
Sam`s behavior sounds like that of someone without
established roots, ties or ongoing relationships, it may
be because it is. But many immigrant entrepreneurs lack
established roots, ties and ongoing relationships here.
Is this an invitation to sociopathic business practices
subvert legitimate enterprise? Is it an accident
that many immigrant ethnic business clans are so
Whatever the answer may be, Sam remains in the U.S. The
last time I spoke time he told me he was busy trying to
set up new companies.
him) is a New York-based writer