Minorities Speak 

The Immigration Lie

By Cedric Welch-Muhammad


Lost in America's historic debate over immigration is the impact that American immigration policies have had on Black America.

Nowhere is this any truer than over the current debate raging in Congress over the H-1B visa.  This proposed legislation would result in a dramatic boost in the number of foreign workers who enter the country to work in the high-tech industry under the H-1 B visa program. Under the program, foreigners are allowed to work in the United States for two three-year periods. 

In 1998 Congress raised the limit on the visas from 65,000 to its current of 115,000, but the ceiling falls down to 107,500 in 2001 then to 65,000. The chief supporters of the legislation to raise the limit are technology companies in Silicon Valley who claim that there is a shortage of workers in America in the technology fields. They express desperation in their attempts to find skilled workers in this country. But many assert these companies are making a dubious claim.  

The AFL-CIO argues that the H-IB visa program has not proven itself to be a success. They argue that data is poor and successes and failures are hard to monitor. They also argue that the program is prone to widespread fraud and abuse with individuals easily able to falsify identification documents in order to qualify under the program. The House Judiciary Committee has held hearings to look into the matter and many investigators admit to a problem with visa and immigration fraud. Union groups also claim that H-IB is an attempt by corporations to hire workers for cheaper wages than would be paid for American workers and that technology companies are only thinking of their bottom line when they advocate a hike in the visa limit.  

Mr. John William Templeton, president of Electron Access Inc. and co-convener of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley, argues that the influx of foreign workers under the H-IB visa program has allowed technology companies to avoid hiring Black, Hispanic and Native American workers. Mr. Templeton has told the House Judiciary Committee that less than 50% of the total amount of Blacks and Latinos that one would expect to be employed in high-tech fields actually are. Mr. Templeton points out that the drop in employment of these groups has occurred at the same time that Congress has increased the number of HI -B visas. Mr. Templeton also points out that the recruiting efforts of Silicon Valley corporations in Black, Latino and Native American communities are dismal or non-existent. He adamantly states that Silicon Valley stands out as the only major industry where the employment of Blacks and Latinos has not increased.  

Even the American Engineering Association (AEA) has backed such claims and advance new ones that challenge the need for increases in the H-1B visa program. The AEA puts forward the claim that there is no such shortage of American workers in the high-tech fields - arguing that over the last four decades some 13 million technical degrees have been granted in America but only one fourth of that number are currently working in technical fields.  They also point out that if there is really a shortage why aren't corporations and the U.S. government advocating massive training programs to correct the problem?

Unfortunately for Blacks, the issue has been given little attention by the Congressional Black Caucus Committee (CBC) and the only member of the CBC on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims (which handles H-1B), Rep.Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex), is on the record as grudgingly offering her support for increases in the program. Without her opposition to the program there is little chance that any member of Congress will raise the issue in terms of its impact on Blacks. 

To further compound matters, legislation to raise the visa limit has bipartisan support from Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). Even Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) has offered strong vocal support for such measures.  

The silence within the Black community on the matter from community activists to civil rights leaders is deafening. Unfortunately, the Black leader who seemed to understand the problem that H-IB poses for Blacks in this country is no longer living. But his words and counsel should be heeded nonetheless.  Though he wrote his words last century and in reference to the problem of integrating Blacks into America's industrial sector, Booker T. Washington hit the nail on the head when he advised U.S. industry and the country as a whole to "Cast down your bucket where you are!"  

In other words, Silicon Valley should be making use of native-born minorities capable of working in the high-tech industry.  

Many of the "Negroes" now wish to be called African-Americans and their numbers have grown from 8 million to 40 million, but Booker T. Washington's appeal is as valid for Silicon Valley today as it was for the Rust Belt: Cast down your bucket where you are!

Cedric Welch-Muhammad is a resident analyst and columnist for politicallyblack.com. He can be reached for comment at Black Electorate Communications.

The following item appeared in the Denver Post:

Illegals take jobs from Americans

By Corine Flores

July 2, 2000 

America's immigration policy, begun in 1965, is a disaster.  It hurts minorities, the poor, the environment (as we see dramatically here in the West on an almost daily basis) and immigrants themselves.  

Because of my Hispanic last name, I can call for immigration reform, although I too have been labeled a racist. Yet immigration affects us all, and we should be able to talk about it without fear of character assassination.  

This trend has its roots in the national news media, where reporters almost inevitably report on immigration as being "good" and those opposed to immigration as being "bad" or racist. These stories remind us that we are a nation of immigrants, while ignoring the fact that the incredibly high rates of immigration to the United States are largely a recent phenomenon.  

From 1915 to 1965, legal immigration ran about 220,000 a year - the number that most immigration reform advocates want us to return to, since it would stabilize our population. Since 1989, legal immigration has averaged about 1,063,000 a year. Another one million people a year immigrate illegally, according to one estimate.  

The major national news media are now largely owned and operated by large corporations that are heavily invested in construction, real estate speculation and development - industries that benefit from continued high population growth. These same media corporations are not being balanced in their reporting on immigration issues. They often run stories about the so called "labor shortage" in this country, while overlooking stories about the environmental and economic problems (including spiraling housing costs and stagnant wages) driven by out-of-control immigration.  

Americans, through a near-replacement-level birth rate, have shown support for a stable population. Yet we are the sixth-fastest growing nation, ahead of Mexico and Bangladesh, and the third most populated behind only China and India. If current trends continue, our population will double to more than half-a-billion by the end of the century. I am personally concerned about immigration because it hurts me and others in a state where the tide of immigrants out of Mexico is crushing native-born Hispanics - of which I am one - as well as flooding already stressed schools and sharply increasing drug trafficking and violent crime.  

The rumored economic boom, despite many news reports to the contrary, has left Hispanics behind. The Federal Reserve recently reported that the median Hispanic net worth fell a whopping 24 percent between 1995 and 1998 due to "an accelerating influx of poor immigrants." Put another way, when many workers ask for a raise, they are often reminded that there are many others who will do the same work for less. For that matter, do any American workers at any level see employers clamoring to increase their pay? No, they see industry calling for the right to import more cheap workers.  

While I care about the world's poor, I believe we cannot possibly welcome all these mostly economic (rarely political) refugees. Do advocates of high immigration believe our own slums are empty and that we no longer have citizens needing a fair chance at decent paying jobs?

We must return immigration to traditional levels. To stop the cross-border flow, we must impose sharp penalties for those employers who hire illegal immigrants.  

Corine Flores is a contributor to Writers on the Range.  She is a native-born New Mexico Hispanic and works at a hotel in Santa Fe.