Well, not all the main characters, but certainly some of the interesting ones. The Center for Immigration Studies recently held a panel discussion at the National Press Club in DC. In addition to Michelle Malkin and John Miano, coauthors of the excellent new book on the H-1B mess, there was Leo Perrero, one of the Disney IT staff replaced by H-1Bs earlier this year in the now-infamous incident. Videos of the event are available, which I highly recommend watching. And in the Q&A — always the most interesting part of any talk or panel discussion — a couple of nonjournalists spoke up who are major players concerning H-1B, as you’ll see below.
My post here will not be an extended analysis of what was said, but rather some points made by the various speakers that I think deserve special comment.
She spent quite a bit of time discussing the failure of the mainstream media to properly cover H-1B and related issues. She asserted that this failure has been deliberate, but I am not so sure. I believe it is at least in part due to the huge success the industry PR people have had in implanting in the American consciousness the notion that we have a STEM labor shortage, that the H-1Bs are geniuses, etc.
Nevertheless, it is likely that certain elements of the media are censoring the topic to some degree. I’ve mentioned for example the very poor coverage in the last few months by the New York Times. The Times had pretty good coverage during 1998-2000 but then went into hibernation on the issue. And though the paper has run several major pieces on H-1B, they have chosen to ignore most of the important points that I and others brought up when their interviewed us.
Malkin mentioned that on the one hand, the new book had gotten her onto CNN, but on the other hand this was the first time she had ever been on the network, rather startling considering her prominence as a journalist. And by the way, in the same pattern I described above for the Times, CNN interviewed me several times during the 1998-2000 period, but not since then.
One point Malkin brought up, which may have slipped right by most ears, is that she, as an Asian-American daughter of an immigrant, has been called a “traitor” by minority activists for speaking out on the problems of immigration. Such, she pointed out, is the result of the excesses of the much-radicalized “diversity” movement on many college campuses today. This has recently led to at least three firings of deans and presidents, due to the radicals’ demands. I strongly support diversity and don’t pretend everything is quite rosy in racial terms on the campuses, but one of the firings in particular was highly unwarranted. I plan to write about this in the near future.
Malkin cited the case of semiconductor engineer Darin Wedel, whose wife Jennifer managed to get a slot in an online town hall meeting with Pres. Obama, in which she demanded to know why Obama was supporting the H-1B program when people like her husband were out of work. Malkin said that this exchange should have been big news, with the media having a feeding frenzy over the inequity. But instead, Malkin pointed out, some in the media accused Wedel of xenophobia! (I was told that one of the reporters making that accusation was David Nakamura of the Washington Post.)
After the incident with Mrs. Wedel, I later posted an analysis of how almost certainly Texas Instruments was hiring H-1Bs into jobs for which Darin Wedel was qualified. Note carefully that — again! — this would be cases in which H-1Bs were hired instead of Wedel, not to replace Wedel. The obsession with the word replace in the discussion on H-1B is way overblown, and harmful.
John gave a first-rate presentation as usual, detailing the fact that the “Gambling? I’m shocked” attitudes we’ve seen in Congress recently on abuses of H-1B are highly disingenuous, to say the least. On the contrary, Congress has over the years deliberately legitimized the abuses by writing the law to allow them, even facilitate them.
John mentioned having to clean up a mess made by incompetent H-1Bs at AIG back in the 1990s. That raises the question (though curiously, no one did raise it) as to why employers are willing to take the penny wise, pound foolish route of hiring weak foreign workers. I think there are a number of reasons for this, ranging from a perception that programmers are just interchangeable commodities to an inability in employers to recognize poor work when they see it.
For someone who is not a veteran in these panel discussions, he did an outstanding job — low key, to the point, nonpolemic.
Perroro was asked why more programmers don’t speak out about H-1B, and organize. He gave the answers I usually give — techies are typically not the types to speak out, and they are afraid of blacklisting by employers — and he also added that it’s very difficult to find an IT job these days, at least in the Orlando area. He went on at length on that point, referring to it as a situation of musical chairs, with too many workers scrambling for the few available chairs.
John added another point that I’ve made as well: Most programmers simply don’t know about the H-1B problem. They don’t realize until, say, they are laid off and find that obtaining another job is far more difficult than they had expected.
One especially interesting comment Perrero made was that he thought at the time, “What if all of us [fired workers] were to band together and refuse to train our foreign replacements? Disney would be forced to back down.”
The Question-and-Answer Session
In addition to journalists, there were a few people in attendance who are involved in H-1B reform. Two who spoke are worth special mention.
Paul is with IEEE-USA and is a longtime associate of lobbyist Bruce Morrison. I’ve known Paul for 20 years, and though I understand his views well, I don’t think he’s ever understood mine. :-) I can’t blame him too much for that, because my objection to his support of proposals (to give fast-track green cards to young new STEM foreign students would exacerbate the already-rampant age discrimination in tech) isn’t understood well even by critics of H-1B.
As noted above, a reporter in the audience had earlier asked Perrero why tech workers don’t organize. Paul then said “I represent the largest tech workers association in the nation,” an egregiously misleading statement. IEEE-USA has refused to poll its members on the H-1B issue. In 2000, the year Paul started work for the organization, they disbanded their excellent Misfortune 500 Web page, profiling 500 engineers who were having troubling finding work, right in the middle of the Dot Com boom. I believe most of their members don’t even know what IEEE-USA is doing about H-1B. The notion that this organization “represents” its members on H-1B is outrageous.
Paul’s answer to Malkin’s complaint that any criticism of H-1B is met with charges of xenophobia was to deflect such charges by supporting fast-track green cards.
There is much interesting, and very unflattering, material on Paul and Morrison in Malkin and Miano’s book, especially in pp.272-273. During the Q&A, Paul, alluding to the phrase “beltway crapweasels” in the book’s title, joked, “I’m one of the crapweasels,” prompting Malkin to interject, “You ARE!”
He is Director of Immigration Research at USCIS, the immigration section of the Dept. of Homeland Security. As I understand it, he has been temporarily detailed to staff work with Senator Grassley.
My interactions with Francis have been very limited, but it is clear to me that he is very sincere, a decent guy who by the way is passionate about keeping Americans in STEM. (He has a physics degree from MIT.) Good for him.
He noted that Grassley and Durbin have a new bill “that addresses this whole nightmare.” He emphasized that “The primary reform of the bill is that it requires employers to hire Americans first…” That provision, which has always been in the green card process, has been shown to be notoriously ineffective for years, as illustrated in the TubeGate videos. Indeed, Sen. Grassley is quite familiar with these videos, as he wrote a letter of protest about such behavior. This is standard practice throughout the industry — recall the statement from prominent immigration attorney Joel Stewart, “Employers who favor aliens have an arsenal of legal
means to reject all U.S. workers who apply” — yet the Grassley bill does nothing to fix it; it merely reuses the same failed policy, one that immigration attorneys thmselves have called a “charade.” Since Francis bills this as the “primary reform” of the bill, they should have done much, much better. I’m sorry, but that reform is essentially useless. Under the bill, it would be business as usual for the employers.
This is especially key in light of the fact that the bill does nothing to rein in the OPT program, which gives work rights to foreign STEM students, and which USCIS has been pushing to extend, not cut back. This ties directly in to the issue of giving (or not giving) Americans hiring priority. Here is what I wrote when the bill was first announced:
…as the Cohen and Grigsby videos show, the current green card process, which (unlike H-1B) already requires recruitment of American workers, is easily circumvented. This will get even worse if the current White House proposal to expand OPT is approved, as the foreign students will acquire experience in the job supposedly posted on the Internet as open to all, thus rendering the foreign students “more qualified” than the Americans. (Alas, the bill does nothing about OPT.)
As I mentioned above, in all likelihood Texas Instruments passed over Darin Wedel for numerous jobs for which he was qualified, while hiring H-1Bs instead. Moreover, as one of the “Intels,” TI likely sponsored most of those H-1Bs for green cards as well, thus going through the same process that the new bill would add to H-1B hiring. So, had the Durbin/Grassley bill been in place at the time, it would have been of no help to Wedel at all.
For that matter, what about Leo Perrero? Suppose the Durbin/Grassley bill had been enacted a year ago. Would the firing debacle have been prevented? That seems highly doubtful. For one thing, Disney could have hired OPTs; as non-H-1Bs, the situation would not be covered by the bill. (Showing once again how important OPT is.) There are many other possibilities.
Moreover, in the future replacement wouldn’t be an issue anyway, because Disney would be hiring foreign workers INSTEAD OF Americans rather than TO REPLACE Americans. Once Disney starts using foreign workers in those positions, they will always do so.