Who Is the Xenophobe, Professor Sunstein?

Those in the Chattering Class who are wondering why Donald Trump’s calls for tightening up immigration policy seem to resonate with so many Americans need wonder no more. Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law has looked into the matter, and shares his sage finding in his latest column, titled “The Real Reason So Many Americans Oppose Immigration.” Those Trump supporters, Sunstein has discovered, are just plain xenophobes, if not outright bigots.

Sunstein cites attitude studies, which sound questionable to me, and also cites the recent NAS study, which I have stated here is truly awful. I won’t go into discussing those studies in this posting. I will discuss at least part of NAS when I have time (and even then will treat  only one or two egregious examples, out of many).

Instead, here I want to address a certain aspect of Sunstein’s piece that moved me to write this blog posting. It’s very simple — he refers to “first generation immigrants.” I know this will baffle many of you, even after I explain, but this term drives me up the wall, and I claim it suggests that Sunstein’s own attitude toward immigrants is pretty lousy.

Let’s say that Sunstein’s grandparents were immigrants. (I think it is a safe bet that I am off by no more than one generation.) So, they were immigrants, and yes, the first generation of the family in the U.S. But does Sunstein them think of his parents as “second-generation immigrants,” with him being a “third-generation immigrant”? Of course not. The term “first-generation immigrant” is redundant, and terms like “second-generation immigrant” are nonsense.

What I am saying, then, is this: Sunstein’s phrasing indicates to me that he feels that terms like “second-generation immigrant” apply to Asians and Latinos, not those of European ancestry, and that he sees Asians and Latinos are “perpetual foreigners.” As such, his sanctimonious defense of immigrants is empty, outrageously condescending and insidiously harmful.

I remember an edition of the PBS Newshour some years ago, in which there was a panel discussion on immigration. One of the distinguished pundits on the panel made the observation, “I’ve talked to immigrants. They’re good people.” In words, to him too, immigrants are The Other, and again, I find this offensively condescending.

Unhealthy attitudes toward other races is bad enough, but subtle, beneath-the-surface atittudes like the above are actually much worse.

Just like Robert Reich (“I finally found a Trump supporter”),  people like this live in their own little world — an immigrant-free world. They are the true “deplorables.”





DOL Brings Discrimination Suit Against Palantir

One of the most abused headline genres in the tech world uses the phrase “Rocks Silicon Valley.” But today’s news can at least qualify as “Raises Eyebrows”: The United States Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP), part of the Dept. of Labor, has brought a complaint against the fabled Big Data startup Palantir, claiming the firm discriminates against Asian job applicants. Note that the suit will be heard by an Administrative Law judge, not in federal court.

There are a number of interesting aspects here, but first, a needed disclosure. OFCCP approached me about a year ago concerning the H-1B visa issue, and had me as a panelist at their recent conference for investigator training. This was not related to the lawsuit, which I just learned of yesterday, but I do wish to state that I have found the OFCCP leadership to be highly competent and professional, and to have a sincere concern about abuse of the visa. My talk was apparently quite well received.

One question sure to come to many readers minds is “Who qualifies as Asian?” In particular, do international students from China and India, say, who are studying at U.S. universities, count as “Asian”? Since the suit is based on an old federal Executive Order regarding affirmative action, is it limited to just U.S. citizens (USCs) and legal permanent residents (LPRs)? One might guess that it is the latter, since otherwise it would invalidate, for instance, employment-based green card statutes, which require employers to give hiring priority to the USCs and LPRs. But it is quite possible that the investigators simply relied on the applicants’ self-identification of race, including the non-USC/LPR applicants.

In terms of statistical methodology, the complaint seems to oversimplify the situation, with the claims taking the form of “x% [large number] of the applicants were Asian yet only y% [small number] of those hired were Asian.” Such an approach is almost always invalid, because it falsely assumes that all applicants are equally qualified. The complaint does say the investigation considered “equally qualified” applicants, but since they indicate that at least part of their data consists of analyzing applicants rejected at the re’sume’ level, it is doubtful that they were taking the most important criteria into account, as they tend to be the intangibles.

Word on the street is that it is extremely tough to get a job at Palantir, regardless of race. A couple of years ago, for instance, a student of mine (white) was interviewed for an internship and rejected, even though I would rate him as one of the top few undergraduates I’ve ever had over the years. Top employers in general, and especially Palantir,  are looking for deep insight, keen intuition, creativity, a noticeable verbal “presence”, quickness and so on.

Note too, by the way, that Palantir is an analysis company, not a software firm like Google and Facebook. They use mathematical analysis, statistical/machine learning methodology and so on. They accomplish these goals via software that either they or others (open source) write, but the software is only a means to an end. Just having good coding skills is far from sufficient.

Thus someone reading through applicant re’sume’s at Palantir will pick up intangibles that OFCCP investigators cannot discern. In addition, given Palantir’s government work, it may set a higher bar for the non-USC/LPR applicants, who are likely overwhelmingly Asian.

Of course, another possibility is that Palantir’s screening criteria, though benign in intent, have discriminatory effects that are unrelated to the jobs being filled. If Palantir does indeed use “verbal ‘presence'” as a criterion, for example, has the company given careful thought to just how important this trait is for effective job performance? Their assessment of the importance of this characteristic presumably is well-founded — the company’s business revolves around interaction with clients, after all — but if not, it would likely have a disproportionately adverse impact on Asian-American applicants.

In other words, this topic is very highly nuanced, and it is puzzling to see that the complaint seems to capture none of those subtleties. It may be that some will emerge as the case moves forward.


A number of people have called my attention to the “McDonald’s hires H-1Bs” article in Breitbart. I certainly recommend it, though I would point out that it is actually a meandering article that covers all kinds of interesting facts and numbers beyond McD’s. There is a ton to learn from here. I do have a couple of comments.

First, the article uses the word outsourcing a lot, much more than it should. I can hardly blame the author, who is an excellent, very insightful journalist, because terminology has become awfully confusing these days in articles on H-1B and related issues, but it is important to keep things straight. So for instance, when the article says

But American companies are now trying to outsource more varieties of jobs, including accounting, healthcare and design jobs. For example, American universities have hired H-1Bs for 100,000 prestigious jobs, including professors, lecturers, doctors, therapists, scientists and researchers. Engineering giant Caterpillar continues to hire H-1B workers in Illinois as it fires hundreds of American engineers and other white-collar workers, DeLoitte and other U.S. accounting firms have asked for more than 20,000 H-1B visas to replace American business-school graduates.

that term “outsourcing” is incorrect. The universities, for instance, are directly hiring H-1Bs, not “renting” them from an outsourcing firm such as Infosys. They are not “renting” those professors. Mind you, I am not defending the universities at all. Most H-1B hiring, including by universities, represents abuses of the visa program, in both direct and indirect ways. But it is not outsourcing.

Similarly, Caterpillar is also not outsourcing, according to another excellent recent piece by the same author. They are directly hiring foreign workers who are studying as foreign students at U.S. universities. Again, that does NOT make it “better”; but it is important to be precise in this complex issue.

Though I am reluctant to object to another point in this otherwise-excellent article, I must comment on this passage:

In Ohio, roughly 1,200 foreign post-graduate students are working in prestigious white-collar jobs, via the ‘Optional Practical Training’ visa. Without that visa program, most of those jobs would have gone to new graduates born in Ohio.

The correct statement would have been “Without the visa program, most of those jobs would have gone to Americans, both new graduates and established professionals. Again, a key point about H-1B is that it is typically used to hire young foreign workers instead of older Americans. It is definitely true that young H-1Bs are also hired in lieu of young Americans, but that is far from the whole picture.

A final comment, not on the article: A number of people have asked me about the recently-released National Academic of Science report on immigration, specifically its findings on high-skilled immigration. I haven’t commented here in the blog yet, because frankly, I would need a dozen blog posts to comment in full. I had been expecting a biased report in the sense that it would have an “Intels good, Infosyses bad” theme, but it turned out to be far worse than that, extremely one-sided. It baffles me that such a prestigious instituation as NAS would produce such an awful report, the presence of some “usual suspects” on the committee notwithstanding. I may make a single post, focusing just on the innovation claims made by the report, at some point in the next few days.


Youthful Errors

No, this post is not about my own youthful errors, numerous though they may be. 🙂 Instead, my post title here can be explained, less glibly but just as succinctly, as “Experience Counts.”

As readers of this blog (hopefully) know, I have over the years emphasized the point that H-1B is largely about age: Employers hire young H-1Bs instead of older (35+) Americans, because younger is cheaper. And like a lot of cheap purchases, this one follows the old adage, “Penny wise, pound foolish.” I claim that this is the connection between two articles in the September 12 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The first article, “We’re Not Too Old for This,” is a typical example of the ever-growing genre of articles on the difficulties older workers face in Silicon Valley, replete with tales about 50-somethings trying to find hip ways to talk and dress so as not to seem like the grandparents of the millenials who interview them for jobs. While I would object to a statement that the oldsters’ problem is that their skill sets are out of date rather than a lack of an Urban Dictionary vocabulary, the article is generally accurate.

The second article, “Don’t Blame Me — It Wasn’t My Code,” is an interesting account of just how vulnerable businesses are to bugs in the software they use as infrastructure. The piece’s case in point concerns the software Cisco writes for its hardware. As the article points out, no software is completely bug-free, but I contend that more experienced programmers write better code. They are better able to anticipate where bugs might occur, and thus to write code in such a way that it is both less bug-prone and easier to discover the source if a bug does creep in.

Cisco hires a lot of foreign workers, typically finding them at U.S. universities, where the foreigners are earning degrees as young international students. Cisco then hires these young’ns under the Optional Practical Training program, hoping to get H-1B work visas for them in subsequent years. If the latter fails, Cisco can have them work for a Cisco subsidiary abroad for a year, then bring them back to San Jose or wherever under the L-1 intracompany transfer visa, no questions asked.

Of course, from Cisco’s point of view, it is not really “Penny wise, pound foolish,” not the “foolish” part anyway, because Cisco probably will not suffer any major consequences. Even if it were sued, it would just treat any damages awarded as a cost of doing business, and still come out way ahead. On a broader level, though, there are plenty of victims.

Social Justice, Theory and Reality

In 2003, Beverly Tatum published her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race”. The blurb on Amazon notes,

Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see black youth seated together in the cafeteria. Of course, it’s not just the black kids sitting together-the white, Latino, Asian Pacific, and, in some regions, American Indian youth are clustered in their own groups, too. The same phenomenon can be observed in college dining halls, faculty lounges, and corporate cafeterias. What is going on here? Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support?

We certainly see this at the university level, and as the above blurb notes, it’s not just blacks and whites, but also Asians, Latinos and so on. Assuming this is an undesirable phenomenon, as I do, the first point I would make here is that, at least at my university, the situation has gotten worse, not better, in the last 10-15 years. In particular, self-segregation among Asian-American students, mainly Chinese, has visibly increased, to the point at which it apparently even effected the design of the remodeled cafeteria in the student union. I won’t go into the details here, and hasten to add that most of the Asian students definitely mingle with the general population, but still, the trend has been toward self-segregation.

What is causing this in the Asian case, I believe, is that many of our students come from feeder schools in Silicon Valley, such as Mission San Jose (in Fremont, not in San Jose), Monta Vista, Lynwood and so on. These schools have enrollments approaching or even exceeding 90% Asian-American. Various articles have been written about this remarkable trend, such as one in the Wall Street Journal in 2005 and this 2015 article in Slate (written by one of the self-segregators). Basically, many if not most of these kids grew up in a mostly-Asian environment, and have never had much serious interaction with others. They’ve always hung out almost exclusively with Asians, and just continue the pattern in college, without even thinking about it.

Having said all that, I was quite startled to find the same situation at Brandeis University, which my wife and I visited (more or less on a whim) on Monday. Yes, whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Asians with Asians etc. And given that Brandeis, originally a Jewish-sponsored school and one whose enrollments are still close to 50% Jewish, that whites-with-whites category may break down further into Jewish and non-Jewish segments.

Should Brandeis be any different? Arguably,yes, it should indeed, in principle, have much less self-segregation than do “ordinary” schools, because Brandeis has a strong theme of social justice. Since adherents of that philosophy define it in largely racial terms, it is puzzling, to say the least to see this self-imposed apartheid.

A student who struck up a conversation with us in the cafeteria, a Latina from Texas, put it bluntly: Though she deplored the situation and doesn’t engage in such behavior herself, she said that many of her classmates simply don’t feel comfortable with other races or ethnicities.

Again, what gets me is that this is Brandeis, the epitome of commitment to social justice. Indeed, the name of its student newspaper, The Justice, granted,  an allusion to the school’s namesake, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, does refer to “justice as in ‘social justice’.” The current issue, for instance,  carries an editorial titled “Change name of ‘Columbus Day’ [to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’].”

So how can it be that these hyper-socially conscious students are uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with other races/ethnicities?

The U.S. still calls itself a “melting pot,” in contrast to the Canadian metaphor of a mosaic. Advocates of large-scale immigration have generally sold the notion in terms of assimilation. The Brandeis students, in supporting their own version of “separate but equal,” seem to be taking Canada as their model.


Just Out — the Hillary Clinton H-1B Wiki

For those of you who might not know the term wiki, it is like an online encyclopedia, bringing in all known (or at least lots of) information on a topic in one place. Today people attribute the term to some Hawaiian word for quickness, but I recall that when wikis first became popular, the explanation given was that “wiki” stood for “What I Know Is,” a highly suitable definition.

So, now we have what amounts to the wiki on Clinton regarding H-1B. For those of us who follow the situation closely, most of the material is not new, but some is new to me, and most importantly, author Julia Hahn has done a great job in gathering the amazingly long and rich paper trail on Hillary for the H-1B issue. It will be ignored by the press (and by the National Academy of Sciences), but if anyone needs a reference, this article is supreme.

Pay particular attention to Barack Obama’s scathing criticism of Hillary on H-1B in the 2008 primary election.


People Who Reich Never Knew He Never Knew

A column by Robert Reich, apparently from the last day or two, opens with

I finally found a Trump supporter—this morning when I went to buy coffee. (I noticed a Trump bumper sticker on his car.)

What Reich doesn’t realize is that this is telling us a lot more about Robert Reich than it is about Trump or the Trump supporter he met. We all live in our own narrow little worlds, of course, but here we see that Reich’s world is so narrow that he had never met a Trump supporter until now. Given that many polls indicate that Trump and Clinton are within margins of error of each other, Reich’s degree of cloistering is remarkable. And his ability to write this without realizing how he looks is even more remarkable.

I don’t know whether Reich’s analysis of Trump’s business acumen is accurate or not, but here Reich is epitomizing the alarming polarization we have been seeing in the U.S. in recent years. The extra irony, of course, is that Reich’s economic views are probably closer to Trump than to Clinton.

Zoe Lofgren Is Shocked, Shocked at UC’s Behavior

I must apologize for the unusually scathing and sarcastic tone of this posting, but the tale of gross hypocrisy and disinformation I am about to tell easily warrants it. And by the way, there will be a bonus at the end, a dire prediction of what is to come.

The other day Computerworld reported that UCSF, the health sciences campus of the UC system, is replacing many of its IT workers with H-1Bs. Now Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Queen H-1Bee of Congress, tells the magazine she is shocked that UC would do such a dastardly deed. As I said here recently about Caterpillar’s hiring of H-1Bs,

H-1B is a highly complex issue. But if you take anything away from this posting, it is this: Hiring H-1Bs INSTEAD OF Americans is just as harmful as hiring H-1Bs to REPLACE Americans. Beware of any news article, research report or politician’s statement that dwells on the word replace. Don’t be fooled into barking up the wrong tree, as I have shown before with the example of Virgil Birschwale.

The key word above is politician, and today’s Computerworld interview of Rep. Lofgren is a great case in point, typical political sleight-of-hand on her part. Just as I warned above, she is focusing on the word replace, diverting attention from the real issue, which is the H-1B/green card statute’s disgracefully loose minimum wage requirements. In spite of being termed the prevailing wage, these requirements are typically well below the real market wage.

Lofgren can’t plead ignorance of the law here. It’s not just that she is a former immigration lawyer and immigration law professor, and long-time member of the House Immigration Subcommittee. Much more directly, she herself has pointed out to this publication, Computerworld, that the prevailing wage is well below the market wage:

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose Congressional district includes Silicon Valley, framed the wage issue at the hearing, sharing the response to her request for some wage numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Lofgren said that the average wage for computer systems analysts in her district is $92,000, but the U.S. government prevailing wage rate for H-1B workers in the same job currently stands at $52,000, or $40,000 less.

“Small wonder there’s a problem here,” said Lofgren. “We can’t have people coming in an undercutting the American educated workforce.”

This is the central problem with H-1B. That last statement, “Small wonder there’s a problem…,” says it all. Lofgren KNOWS that the central problem is prevailing wage, NOT replace-by vs. hire-instead-of. In other words, Lofgren does NOT want to solve the problem. She’s known about it for years, and done nothing to solve it. (More on this below.) Her indignant statements today about UC amount to rank hypocrisy and political deception of the highest order.

And in turn, all parties involved — including critics of H-1B — are ignoring the elephant in the room regarding prevailing wage, the question of HOW the prevailing wage can be so far below the market wage. The answer, as I have tried — and alas, largely failed — to explain over the years is AGE. Though there are other reasons for the gap, such as prevailing wage not accounting for “hot” skill sets and games being played regarding job title, the largest portion of the wage gap is due to AGE: Younger workers are cheaper, and most H-1Bs are young. 

I can guarantee you that the laid-off UCSF workers are much older, and thus much more expensive, than their H-1B replacements, just as was the case at Disney and SCE. And again, it is not just a matter of replacement by any means; the “Intels” are hiring YOUNG foreign workers instead of OLDER (age 35+) Americans.

Today’s article does say that Lofgren tried to work with Rep. Darrell Issa to fix the prevailing wage provision, by prioritizing the allocation of visas to the employers offering higher salaries. I myself have supported such a policy in principle, but as usual, the devil is in the details, evident in the bill Lofgren introduced the same year she made the “Small wonder” remark. It would have implemented a wage priority system for H-1B, BUT it also would have set up a Staple a Green Card program, effectively a parallel program to H-1B which employers could then use to bypass the H-1B prioritization. Again, this is largely an age issue, as follows.

The Staple proposals, as many of you know, would give automatic green cards to all STEM foreign students at U.S. universities pursuing MS or PhD degrees. Of course, almost all these recipients would be YOUNG, thus swelling the youth labor market. It then would be business as usual for UCSF; they could get all the young foreign workers they want, simply by going a few blocks down the hill to San Francisco State University. Of course, those hired would no longer quite be foreigners, as they would be on track to get green cards, but the effect is the same: The older UCSF workers would still be out of a job.

And once again: The fact that that $60K wage floor for H-1B dependent employers is out of date is a red herring. Employers still must pay at least prevailing wage, which, low as it is, is far higher than $60K. The real issue is prevailing wage, and its relation to age.

Unfortunately, many critics of H-1B are allowing themselves to be duped by the tech industry lobbyists, IEEE-USA, the New York Times and so on into thinking the primary issue with H-1B is replacement of Americans, rather than the age issue. I was saddened to learn today, for instance, that Sara Blackwell, the courageous attorney representing the laid–off Disney workers, has also drunk this Kool-aid.

Pat Thibodeau, author of these Computerworld articles, once praised me for making a prediction that came true about H-1B. Actually, it wasn’t a very sage forecast at all, but mark my words on this one: After Staple becomes law, Pat will STILL be writing about Americans at UCSF, Disney, SCE etc. being replaced by young foreign workers (now from a different source), and Lofgren will STILL be telling Pat, “This wasn’t what the law was intended for.”


OMG, Right There in America’s Most Pro-Immigration City!

To paraphrase James Carville, some of those sanctuary city-vowin’, amnesty supportin’, “I know a great little place for pot stickers where they don’t speak English”-braggin’ citizens of San Francisco are now finding themselves bitten in the you-know-where by federal immigration policy (including the nonimmigrant visas such as H-1B)! They’ve been Disneyed!

But these are not your average Disney workers. These are highly sophisticated, aggressive people who know how to pull strings. It becomes especially important in light of UC’s generous defined-benefit pension plan. If someone has worked, say 10 years, at UCSF and had planned to work 25, they are having enormous fture pension sums snatched away from them. So it’s real money we’re talking about, which indeed may be what UC had in mind. The laid-off ITers won’t take this lying down.

But there you have it, right there in America’s most famous sanctuary city, richly ironic.

Not the Usual Article — But the Usual Story

I have long sought to explain to those interested in the H-1B issue that the common viewpoint,”Intels good, Infosyses bad” is (a) unwarranted, as the Intels abuse the system just as much as the Infosyses, and (b) dangerous, as it will lead to legislation that does NOT increase job opportunities for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Again, by “Infosyses” I mean firms that “rent” H-1Bs to U.S. firms, while the “Intels” are companies that hire H-1Bs directly, typically as foreign students at U.S. universities.

The “Intels good, Infosyses bad” (IGIB) viewpoint, heavily promoted by the tech industry lobbyists and their allies such as the New York Times but naively adopted by many well-meaning analysts, badly misses the point in one aspect in particular: IGIB dwells on the fact that there have been many cases (only a few of which have been publicized) in which a company fires its Americans and REPLACES them by Infosyses-supplied H-1Bs. The key word is replace; let’s call that disease Infosysitis. The problem is that the Intels inflict an equally serious disease, Intelitis, by hiring H-1Bs INSTEAD OF Americans. Both diseases are of great concern, and even if Infosysitis were eradicated, Intelitis would take its place.

Thus today’s article by Neil Munro of Breitbart is huge, one of the few that tells the real story about Intelitis. Here Caterpillar is an Intel, in the sense that it is directly hiring H-1Bs. And it is not REPLACING Americans, at least not overtly. It appears to be hiring H-1Bs INSTEAD OF Americans.

In addition, the article’s speculation that these H-1Bs are largely, likely exclusively, foreign students is almost certainly accurate, based on my experience. One way to see that is, as researchers and advocates on both sides of the foreign tech worker issue agree, an aspect that sharply distinguishes the Intels from the Infosyses is that the former sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards. As I have explained before, I am NOT saying the Intels are less abusive because of that; on the contrary, they use the lengthy green card process to trap their foreign workers, an abuse of the foreign workers as well as a reason why the employers shun hiring Americans in favor of hiring the foreigners. Instead, my point is that Caterpillar does offer green card sponsorship (see table in the article), hence their “Intels” status. Indeed, Caterpillar’s motivation may well be that H-1Bs solve a “How do you keep them down in Mossville” problem (indirectly a money-saving issue, as it would have to pay Americans much more to stay).

H-1B is a highly complex issue. But if you take anything away from this posting, it is this: Hiring H-1Bs INSTEAD OF Americans is just as harmful as hiring H-1Bs to REPLACE Americans. Beware of any news article, research report or politician’s statement that dwells on the word replace. Don’t be fooled into barking up the wrong tree, as I have shown before with the example of Virgil Birschwale.