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This Is Not Our Issue
by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.

Biography May 23, 2000 -- When asked recently how the business coalition pushing for more H-1B visas felt about persistent efforts by House Democrats to redress other perceived wrongs and attach them to the H-1B legislation, Sandy Boyd, legislative director of the National Association of Manufacturers, simply stated: “This is not our issue.” Whatever the merits of bringing back Section 245(i) to allow green card applications by those with flawed immigration status, or moving forward the registry date from 1972 to 1986, so that undocumented aliens here in this country for a long time could enjoy a de facto general amnesty, the pro-H-1B forces have steadfastly kept their eyes on the prize. They have not allowed themselves to be distracted. While short-term tactical advantage often flows from such singular concentration, it is equally true that an enlightened immigration policy cannot exist in an unjust society.

A friend of this column recently observed that, while he was tempted to express his personal views, he was more concerned with the practical problem of enacting legislation and, for that reason, refrained from such indulgence. Indeed, the craft of governance is an intensely practical one. The need to move forward now on the H-1B front is both real and present. Any broadly-based coalition risks a critical loss of cohesion when the vital center grows too large and begins to unravel. The H-1B battle is hard enough without taking on more baggage, however just the cause.

Yet, one wonders what motivates the H-1B opponents. After all, they are not stupid. Do we who favor more H-1Bs have a monopoly on wisdom or virtue? The AFL-CIO, for example, knows full well that most new H-1Bs are not prime candidates for organizing campaigns. The Congressional Black caucus can read the unemployment figures and the Clinton Administration realizes that a rising tide of national prosperity lifts all economic boats. Not all of the H-1B skeptics, or even a majority, can be dismissed as nativist bigots or cultural fascists engaged in a holy war against the arriving infidel. Recently, The Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley released a public letter questioning the need for more H-1B visas on the grounds that these new foreign-born workers could, and likely would, compete with Afro-American citizens for low-skill, low-wage jobs. Also, the letter claimed, any revision in immigration policy had the very real potential to distract the nation’s attention away from the undeniable need to retrain and reclaim those in America’s inner cities who have been left behind on the wrong side of the digital divide. These are valid concerns that deserve honest examination.

We are not the only post-industrial economy in need of more high technology workers. More than 2,000 IT professionals are expected to arrive in Germany by the end of this year. This is but a small down payment on the eventual flood of 20,000 foreign technology workers whom the German Foreign Ministry wants to attract with the offer of special “green cards.” A similar initiative may soon be announced in Austria if domestic opposition can be overcome; a recent study by the research institute Datamonitor and the International Data Corporation put the unmet need for IT specialists in Austria at 55,000. In Taiwan, the Acer Group, one of the nation’s largest companies, is importing high tech Filipino workers, to compensate for the steady exodus of IT talent to the West. The island of Taiwan produces 54% of the world’s notebook computers, largely helped by the Acers’ factory in Hsinchu which turns out 2 million each year. Earlier this month, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary for the United Kingdom, announced the Blair Government’s intention to speed up the recruitment of foreign IT workers by companies with severe skill shortages: similar initiatives have been pushed by Australia, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, South Africa and Japan. Novosoft, a US-based web software company, has 230 programmers in Siberia. Japan offers unlimited work visas for foreigners who cannot hope to attain permanent residency, but are under no pressure to go home anytime soon. A major Japanese firm, Pasona, has already arranged to import 50 Indian IT engineers this coming September and is likely to bring over 10,000 Indian software engineers over the next five years. By spring 2001, Pasona will set up a center in India to coordinate their recruitment campaign. The company has already negotiated with the Japanese Labor Ministry to issue special work visas for these Indian engineers.

Long ago, Thomas Jefferson told the young nation that the future of representative democracy depended in large measure on widespread property ownership that would give such yeoman farmers a stake in society. Other advanced economies have good jobs at high pay. What they do not have is what has always distinguished the better angels of our nature, to borrow Lincoln’s happy phrase, namely a bedrock commitment to freedom and equality. For any immigration policy to last, it must be accepted by the majority of the American people. When it is, its survival is ensured not as a matter of tactical triumph but national faith.

Many of the advances made by the Immigration Act of 1990 were reversed in 1996 and 1998 precisely because opponents of IMMACT 90 never accepted it as anything other than the illegitimate fruit of partisan politics. The nation needs more employment-based immigration but it also needs an open and honest effort to make such achievement the product of national consensus. If the AFL-CIO cannot agree with us on H-1Bs, then let’s focus on the need to repeal employer sanctions where agreement is possible. If the congressional Black Caucus worries about the immigrant threat to low-wage African Americans, let those who want their votes to raise the H-1B cap express honest and long-lasting interest in ways to make Afro-American workers better able to compete for higher paying jobs. If the Catholic Church and the refugee/ethnic communities do not see why so much attention is paid to IT workers, let IT companies who need their political support pay more attention to the campaign for restoring a sense of humanity to non-H-1B issues such as family unification, asylum reform, and hiking the level of refugee admissions.

So long as the business coalition refuses to care about the genuine concerns of others in America, or acts as if it does not, it should not be surprised when they, in turn, express no great interest in bringing us the H-1B talent that our economy so badly needs. The primary need to be practical when trying to cobble together a coalition behind an enlightened employment-based immigration policy is precisely why we should all care about the need to make law an instrument to attain social justice. Only a just society will care about, or believe in, a compassionate immigration policy that serves our highest national interests. Do not believe the advocates of realpolitik. The cause of human rights is now, and will always be, a standard around which those who want more employment based immigration must rally.

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