Billionaire Facebook Co-Founder Flees to Repressive Country to Avoid Taxes: What an Insult to Hard-Working American Families

Saverin's move is an insult to immigrant families like mine who worked hard to build something in this country.

The recent announcement that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin had renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid future capital gains taxes on the fortune he’ll make from Facebook’s initial public offering upset quite a few people. More than anything, it’s an insult to millions of immigrants who built this nation and are continuing to build it. 

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When my family immigrated to the United States almost 30 years ago, my parents barely spoke English and had no relatives here. So they did what millions of immigrants have done for 200 years: they started a business of their own. My parents ran a motel, and it really was a family operation. After school, I watched the cash register while my dad showed guests to their rooms. On weekends I helped rake the leaves while my mom cleaned the rooms.

Life was tough -- harder on my parents than on me because they felt so guilty for having to put me to work at age 10. In Korea, my dad would have been guaranteed cushy jobs through my grandfather's businesses, so my parents constantly contemplated moving back.  

One particularly bad time 20 years ago, the family business was failing badly, so they sent my sister and me to Korea for two months to test the waters on whether we would all move back. But it became obvious that we were now more American than Korean, so my parents brought us back and they buckled down, toiling and struggling. By the time I reached college, we had all become naturalized citizens.

Becoming an American citizen was the result of incredible sacrifice and struggle, for which my parents are still paying the price, both financially and personally. But to them it was worth it to have their children become citizens of the country they love and that has given them a brighter future.

Saverin, a billionaire no longer connected to Facebook but who still owns a share that could add $4 billion to his net worth, has become a citizen of Singapore, which has no capital gains tax. While it’s hard to say how much tax he will save, it won’t be trivial. Conservatives were quick to gloat, with Mike Brownfield posting on the Heritage Foundation’s blog, “A billionaire like Saverin can afford to flee for greener pastures, but the rest of America isn’t so lucky.” America, Brownfield wrote, is “less economically free” than Singapore.

Ah yes, the green pastures of  freedom – in a country that ranks 135 on the 179-nation World Press Freedom Index; a country so oppressive it banned chewing gum. Michael Levin, co-founder of the Activist Investor, called Singapore “Cuba with money.”

It must be nice to be so rich you don’t care about such things. What Saverin is expected to make from Facebook’s IPO would be enough to cover all of the budget cuts to education and medical care for the poor Gov. Brown is proposing to address California’s state budget crisis – with enough left over to buy himself a new Ferrari for every day of the year through 2014.

South Korea was a dictatorship when my parents left, so they know something about freedom. They made huge sacrifices to become Americans and give their children the lives of American citizens. Millions of immigrants, some undocumented, gladly pay taxes as they seek their small piece of the American dream. Many risk their very lives for that dream.

I hope you like Singapore, Mr. Saverin. As for me, I’m proud to be an American citizen and grateful for my parents’ sacrifices that made my citizenship possible. Patriots don't cut and run. We exercise our responsibility to form a more perfect union.

But I hear you can chew gum in Singapore now -- as long as you get it from a pharmacy and put yourself on a government list. Enjoy. 

Samuel S. Kang is general counsel at the Greenlining Institute.