SYNDICATED COLUMN: Immigration Reform is Treason

Unemployment is High. Why Are We Importing Foreign Workers?

Unemployment is sky-high. Sustained long-term unemployment is at record levels. So why the hell are we importing foreign workers?

The immigration reform bill moving through Congress will throw open the door to millions of new foreigners — people who aren’t here yet — to enter the United States to work. And we’re not talking about crappy fruit-picking gigs Americans supposedly don’t want (more on that below).

“American” (you have to wonder about their loyalties) lawmakers want foreigner nationals to fill America’s high-paying tech jobs. While Americans are out of work.

At the risk of sounding like Pat Buchanan: WTF?

For at least 20 years, the U.S. economy has been replacing good manufacturing jobs with bad service jobs. Salaries have fallen. Which has depressed demand. As things stand, there’s one bright spot: the potential for the IT sector to lift us out of the rut. To paraphrase George Orwell’s “1984”: If there is hope for America’s unemployed, it lies with tech.

Make that: “lied.” Because America’s tech companies — which makes most of its money selling its crap to Americans — are hell-bent on hiring just about anyone who is not an American citizen.

Economists say jobs aren’t a zero-sum game. But unemployment would certainly be lower if employers were forced to hire Americans who were qualified, or train them. But they’re not. So they don’t. Companies “want people to hit the ground running,” Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, told USA Today. “They don’t want to train anybody.”

Bosses say they just want to fill positions. But that’s just not true.

What bosses want is flexible — i.e. compliant, uncomplaining — indentured labor. Foreign workers fit the bill perfectly. If foreigners get fired, they lose their visas and have to go back home. How likely are they to ask for a raise, much less gripe about long hours or unpaid overtime, with the boss’ sword raised over their heads?

And so, even as born-in-the-USA Americans — many of them experienced programmers with fancy “STEM” degrees from the nation’s top engineering schools — languish without jobs, sinking into poverty and getting evicted from their homes, Big Tech is passing them over in favor of indentured workers from India and other foreign countries.

“As drafted,” reports FoxNews, the bill would raise the current cap on so-called H-1B visas for highly skilled workers… The legislation also included new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs, and high-tech firms objected to some of those constraints.”

Re-read that last phrase.

“High-tech firms objected” to “new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs.” Thanks to the Gap-shirt-wearing “revolutionary” “pioneer” billionaires of Silicon Valley, those common-sense protections — which didn’t say you can’t hire foreign workers, only that you have to search for Americans before you do — have been cut out of the bill. Nevertheless the number of indentured foreign workers likely to be authorized by the new law has shot up to at least 300,000 annually.

That means millions of new foreign workers taking our best new jobs.

Which firms are spending big bucks to screw unemployed American tech workers? Unbeknown to most Internet users, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is the tip of the spear of an anti-American worker, D.C. multi-million-dollar lobbying juggernaut. Facebook and their insanely rich right-wing corporate allies claim they need foreigners because they can’t find enough qualified U.S. citizens. “Microsoft has 3,500 high-tech jobs that they cannot fill. Intel has 1,700. I mean, you can go on and on,” Dan Turrentine of the trade group TechNet told NPR. Good thing it was radio; smirks look awful on TV.

The tech giants are lying. There are plenty of unemployed IT workers right here in the USA.

Officially, tech sector unemployment is a relatively low 3.7%. Of course, there’s still that question: why hire any foreigners as long as there’s one single American who needs a job?

Anyway, that number is deceiving. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, colleges and universities graduate 50% more students with degrees in computer and information science and engineering than get hired into those fields each year. Most of these bright young grads are forced into other professions, or simply remain unemployed. “The supply of high-tech workers,” concludes  EPI vice president Ross Eisenbrey, is “a problem we don’t have.”

Millions of tech-savvy Americans are out there looking for jobs. Yet big tech doesn’t want them.

“If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than 9 million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or math field, but only about 3 million have a job in one,” Eisenbrey wrote in The New York Times. “That’s largely because pay levels don’t reward their skills. Salaries in computer- and math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5% between 2000 and 2011. If these skills are so valuable and in such short supply, salaries should at least keep pace with the tech companies’ profits, which have exploded.”

On average, the typical unemployed U.S. tech worker is better trained than the foreign workers who are taking their jobs.

We’re also seeing this import-foreigners-to-hell-with-Americans phenomenon on the low end of the employment ladder.

Like Zuckerberg, large-scale farms claim they can’t find Americans willing to work for them. In their case, it’s hard, low-paying field work: picking fruits and vegetables.

Once again, it turns out that there are lots of Americans willing to do the job — but the big farms pass them by. Agribusiness prefers compliant slave labor. “When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley farm in Georgia, said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic [American citizen] wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions?” Such gall.

Southern Valley is one of numerous farm operations being sued by “Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability,” reports The Times.

We know Americans are willing to do field work because, until the 1970s, two-thirds of farm workers were U.S. citizens and a third were foreigners. Now it’s the other way around. Many are undocumented. Farms were recently forced to concede that their legally required efforts to recruit Americans for field work “had not been made or had been intentionally not serious.” Nevertheless, even as Americans who want these jobs get rejected (because they ask about pay and conditions), the U.S. continues to issue 85,000 H-2A visas to foreign field workers.

No wonder the immigration bill has bipartisan support. Both the Democrats and the Republicans work for their big corporate donors, not for us. Business wants salaries low, labor weak. There’s only one reason to import foreign labor: to depress wages.

If the supporters of import-more-foreigners immigration reform weren’t trying out to screw over American workers, they’d grant permanent resident status (“green cards”) to foreign workers so that they could stay legally, join unions, and negotiate on an equal footing with employers. But that would defeat the purpose.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

13 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Immigration Reform is Treason

  1. I was once a part of that manufacturing base in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I worked in a steel mill. It was Union job, with heath care and defined benefit retirement plan. The Plant it self was not much different from other steel mills in the area. One issue was the technology of the plant was from the 1920 to 40’s era. Not a problem or so we may have thought. Our economic rivals had been subjected to devastating destruction during WW 2.

    When they rebuilt their factories they were modern for the time. We had one “modern” rolling mill which was a duplicate of one in West Germany, the remaining rolling mills were obsolete by comparison. I would suspect the same may have true in the textile industry. The plant I had worked in closed one day leaving all the workers on the street. Manufacturing jobs were shipped out to places with no unions, and no environmental laws.

    Tech was hyped as the savior of our economy. Later tech jobs were off shored.

    I worked in an office and would see the lawn maintenance crews over the course of few years switch from White workers, to Black and than to Hispanic.

    My take on all this is for Mega-Corporations is if they cannot ship the jobs to the Third World, than bring the Third World here. Of course our political leadership is far more concerned about Corporate Profits than American Workers.

  2. michael,

    You say you’ve been unemployed for five years. I suspect a lot of people — a lot more than anyone has calculated — are in that position. I will be hitting the five-year mark in October. I know other people who are also in that state. It would be interesting to hear your particulars. I cashed in my 401(k) — about $8,000. After the first year, when I realized I wasn’t going to be finding a job, despite all the resumes I’d sent out, I started planning to not renew my apartment lease. I moved back into a house share. I took the car off the road. I found some temp employment for seven months, so I’m collecting a pittance of unemployment each week. I also have a temp assignment that generates about $60 a week. It’s a fragile structure of stop-gap solutions that is going to finally crash down around me in about six more months. I’ve sold pretty much everything I own that has any value. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have at least one friend who is 55 and homeless. Another friend lists her occupation on LinkedIn as unemployed.

    But you know what’s coming. The downward spiral. STEM jobs are disappearing as cut-and-paste software comes along? Of course. We’re back to the inescapable part of the chain letter that is the Internet Model: you eventually can’t generate money off of the plan anymore because it’s too successful. Job destruction used to be accompanied by comparable job creation. Not anymore. The Internet Model wipes out retail jobs. A warehouse in Idaho with 100 employees who spend an entire shift picking orders off shelves and dropping the boxes into a bin for collection by the postal truck does the equivalent work of 5,000 employees in stores around the country. Net job loss: 4,900 employees, and there’s no new jobs created by the establishment of a warehouse in middle-of-nowhere Idaho. Those 100 pickers aren’t going to settle down, buy homes, and send their kids to the local school. In a few more months, the warehouse will be relocated to Mexico anyway.

    I think we’ll have some very interesting times in the next two or three years if the government doesn’t invent some work for people. And by interesting, I mean social unrest interesting. Buildings being set on fire and people being kidnapped interesting. Police detentions in the early hours of the morning interesting.

  3. Hi Ted,

    The is the first column of yours that I’ve ready in a while which I agreed with 100%. I have a good STEM job that is one of the few mechanical design companies in America that Chinese in Indian companies actually outsource design to instead of get work from. Unfortunately, I Chinese conglomerate is now negotiating with the owners of our company to buy us out and I’m not sure how long we will last if the deal goes through. If I were on the open market I would likely take a job at half my present salary just to have a job and I would most likely have to move which I really do not want to do. I think the biggest problem with capitalism is not aggregation of profits like so many say here. It is that we have not found a way to transfer companies from the founders to the employees once the founders hit retirement age. The founders children typical don’t give a crap about the business because this is America and everyone wants to make it on their own. So they want is the money their dad made so they cash out. The stockmarket is really shortsighted and selling the business to uncle moneybags across town doesn’t help either because he doesn’t understand the company. The result is the mess we have today. An alternative is the German model where businesses stay in the family, and government protects the workers. Sadly, this seems culturally impossible here so we need to invent something else.

  4. I might also add, in addition to those words we’ll be hearing — there will also be …

    – Furious blogging. Comments sections will be on fire!
    – TV commentary by pundits saying all the cliche things you can handle!
    – Cartoons with outrage!
    – Cartoonists yelling with outrage!
    – Books, books, books! Lots of outrage books at discount prices, signed by the author!
    – Book reading appearances where authors of outrage books answer questions like “what can we do?”

    In short, the most pressing question for the afflicted has been and will continue to be this:

    “What’s the best way for us to have a huge revolution in which power and self-determination is restored to the citizens, but without any disruption in services, without any danger to me or (especially) my children, without any real inconveniences (like missing episodes of The Walking Dead), without the risk of losing anything — and results in me getting a great high-paying job so I can be a better consumer?”

    Viva la Revolucion!

    Good luck Americans! You deserve it!

  5. “I have a STEM degree from Enormous State University, and I’ve been unemployed for five years now.”

    I’m sorry, I have to ask: How exactly does one survive when unemployed for five years?

  6. And as all the good jobs disappear, as all the bad jobs disappear, as all the citizens’ rights disappear, as privacy completely disappears, as the rich and powerful become even more entrenched — these words will be heard across the nation:

    “Someone should do something!”
    “This is so unfair!”
    “The bankers are so greedy!”
    “Our government is corrupt and only works for the rich!”
    “Our government doesn’t care about the little guy!”
    “What happened to the American Dream!”
    “Our government doesn’t care!”
    “Republicans and Democrats are all the same!”

    And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah ….

    The working class will beg for scraps from the elite, and when John Q. Harvard throws a little piece of food to the grateful masses they’ll reply: “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

  7. In ancient times, there were real jobs: e.g., growing food. This was so important the dying Roman Empire instituted feudalism to guarantee an adequate supply of agricultural workers–serfs–to feed the medieval world.

    Then, after the Enlightenment, the world mechanised. Landowners freed, then expelled their serfs, and used machines to replace most of their agricultural labour. The former serfs, after trying to fight their expulsion from their homes and jobs and losing (with some being killed), found jobs in industry.

    In the early modern world (up to ca. 1980) most of those serfs found work in manufacturing. In the US, this was a very strange, anomalous system: the workers received middle-class wages, and could buy the stuff they manufactured. The top executives only earned about 5 times the median wage. Clearly, this was wrong. A horrible aberration from the way things should be. Top executives went to exclusive resorts, and found them full of proles!

    Fortunately, manufacturing, as agriculture had before it, found ways to automate, to replace workers with machines. So the bourgeoisie could regain their rightful place in society. Now, those exclusive resorts are restricted to the bourgeoisie. About 25% of workers are without work and desperate (most have given up, and so are NOT unemployed–only about 7% of Americans are technically unemployed).

    STEM work has finally been automated, with most STEM graduates unemployed (full disclosure: I have a STEM degree from Enormous State University, and I’ve been unemployed for five years now).

    The government has lots of real jobs (e.g., fondling air passengers) and lots of fake jobs. Most of those fake jobs seem to be restricted to ethnic groups of which I am NOT a member. I got lots of registered letters the only purpose of which is to prove that a STEM job, absolutely essential to keeping the US safe, could only be done by a member of the same ethnic group as the head of the company who had the contract, and who was of the same ethnic group as the SES in the Civil Service who was responsible for funding that job. And, trust me, that job WILL be funded, since it’s essential to keeping the US safe (just ask the SES).

    So trying to ban those ethnic groups is impossible.

    Some US-born Americans (e.g. Alex ) claim that members of those ethnic groups (who usually can’t speak English) are great programmers but lack necessary skills . They aren’t great programmers. And, since the jobs are fake, they don’t lack necessary skills. The company gets close to $1 million for each worker, very little of which is squandered on those H1B workers. (So a win-win situation, and two out of four ain’t bad.)

    The real STEM jobs are few. Most have been automated. Custom software, requiring hundreds of STEM workers for every large company, has been replaced by canned software, created by a few hundred workers at the big software companies (think Microsoft, Intuit, Oracle). And (the last time I looked) most employers said that modern STEM work is only understood by people under 25, and all those over 35 must live off the commissions on whatever STEM work they can sell.

  8. And WHY do the widgets HAVE to be priced always lower? Precisely because the capitalists have relentlessly reduced worker wages.

    The world’s governments are run by and for capitalists. The only treason in capitalism is interference with generation of profit. To suggest the proposed immigration reform is treason is to get the analysis 180 degrees out of phase.

  9. Ted,

    More than one friend in the computer industry tells me the same thing: The foreign computer programmers are excellent programmers, but they have pretty much zero skills for intuiting what might be needed in the program beyond what is exactly and completely spelled out. So, for example, if you give one of them an assignment for something that involves zip codes, they will program it so that the zip code can be entered. And when it’s finished, you’ll say something like “Wait. You mean it won’t accept non-U.S. zip codes?” And the response will be, “I was not told to do that, and I did not ask because I was not told to ask.”

    The thing I find absolutely most entertaining about all this — and I use “entertaining” in the way George Carlin used the word when he observed things about the collapse of the American way of life — is that it is so clearly and obviously a disaster for big business.

    Every business requires clients. And almost every business is racing to embrace (or has already done so) the Internet model of business. But, because of the nature of that model, you can’t make a profit in the long-term. You sell widgets? So do 2,000 other businesses, including about 300 people who have a spare bedroom in Tulsa or Albuquerque or Pierre crammed with widgets, ready to ship. No one will buy a widget from WIdgetCo at $19.95 if Tammy Jane Housecoat in Savannah can offer one at $11.95 because her overhead is practically zero, and the credit card company and PayPal will guarantee that if you get screwed over by Tammy, they’ll refund your costs.

    So you have to get your widgets down to $11.95. How? Joe Consumer doesn’t give a fuck how you do it, he just wants to continue to buy crap for as little as possible. This — and this is a point the fiscal, um, conservatives never seem to grasp — is death for the economy. Why? Because your spending is my paycheck, and my spending is your paycheck. When neither of us is spending enough, we both end up out of work. A little thrift is one thing, but constantly trying to get the best price on everything (thank you Internet and iPhones for instantaneous price checks) will lead to an economic disaster.

    So, rather than continue to keep Americans employed, which would ameliorate the Internet effect of profit reduction, every business that can is outsourcing as much as it can. The result? Everyone is now scared to death to spend for fear that they will get pink-slipped tomorrow.

    Seriously, is anyone out there actually completely confident that they’ll have a job in two weeks, two months, or two years? And how can you plan for, well, anything significant without confidence in your employment future?

    It ought to be quite interesting when the food riots start.

    • I wish I disagreed with anything that Alex had to say here, but sadly I cannot. The system is headed toward collapse and we are all going to suffer as a result. Well, maybe not all of us. But 99% of us.

  10. When someone from Kerala who was born in the US gets an SES government job, he promises his rich, powerful cousin that, if he’ll come over from Kerala and start a company, he’ll give him some contracts (by the way, please bring your granddaughters, I and my brothers need to get married).

    The cousin starts a company to provide whatever the government is buying (note: it’s buying in the Malyalam language, since that’s the first language of the US Citizen who now holds the SES position with the government). The cousin then hires people from Kerala who are fluent in Malyalam. If you can’t speak Malyalam (and you can’t), you wouldn’t be able to understand your boss. I got lots of registered letters from these companies asking for my CV, but since my language skills did NOT include Malyalam, they sadly had to reject me (and all the others who didn’t speak Malyalam) and put together an irrefutable case that the only qualified workers were some cousins of theirs in Kerala, and they got them H1B visas. Note that, with an H1B visa, your stay in the US at the pleasure of your employer, so don’t go making ridiculous demands that cannot be met, like a regular paycheck. And you can’t work for anyone else, so you’d better be happy with whatever they give you to do or you’ll be shipped back to Kerala, and your contract says they don’t owe you anything since your dismissal was your own fault, in fact, you owe them.

    Those people from Kerala have make-work jobs that originated with a cousin. If the SES couldn’t give the money to his cousins, he certainly wouldn’t waste it on US STEM degree holders who can’t speak Malyalam.

    ***

    It takes very few programmers in the current software environment. Once, every organisation wanted custom software, so they had to hire hundreds of programmers to build their own systems. Now companies like Microsoft and Intuit do all that with a few hundred programmers and companies buy packaged software.

    Back in the ’90s, I built some interactive websites to support my classes. When I didn’t get tenure, the only question potential employers asked me was, ‘How much did your website gross? We’ll do all your back-office work for 50% of your gross.’ Of course, class websites by teachers at colleges are not allowed to charge, so my answers was, ‘My site earned $0’ and their answer was, ‘GET LOST!!!’

    Whether we let H1B people in, or not, isn’t going to make any difference to my own job prospects, or the job prospects of people like me.

    The company that told me to ‘get lost’ did hire a very few US teenagers at six figure salaries to go install packaged, ready to run websites. Customers didn’t want anyone old enough to shave, they figured only teenagers understood this new-fangled web thingum, and they paid the company enough that it got lots of massive loans until the dot com bubble burst.

  11. Good piece. Accurate too. I work in tech and in the last five years the only people that have been hired locally are Asian workers on some sort of government program (Green Card, H1-B, etc ….). Not a single American hired in that time, and it’s not because they’re not out there.

    What to do, though? Americans just don’t care about this stuff anymore. They won’t do what needs to be done to change things. Why? We’re too soft. There’s too much wealth. Even the lowest classes live in such comfort now, relatively speaking, that they’re not willing to give that up for the risk of change. Change, as we know, is a tough thing. But the reason none of this changes is the same reason Occupy failed miserably. Which is this reason:

    The base of this “movement” is made of clay. There’s no substance there, just brittle clay — nothing else. Until average Americans are ready to make a collective stand for their right to exist in their own country, to be able to live a life that is self-determined, it will just be more of the same. More complaining that “someone should do something”, and other such nonsense. More failed Occupy movements.

    My guess? That pattern will continue. Americans are just too soft.

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