Presidential Campaigns Raising Awareness of Legal Immigration’s Impact on American Workers

By Joe Guzzardi
March 11, 2016
 
With the Disney IT scandal still percolating, another egregious case of American worker abuse has hit the headlines, this time at health care giant Abbott Laboratories.
 
A few months ago, Disney fired 500 of its IT employees, and then forced them to train their foreign-born replacements or lose their severance. One former Disney worker with twenty years of experience and who had earned glowing corporate evaluations, Leo Perrero, described the experience of training his less qualified replacements as humiliating.
 
Much to Illinois Senator Richard Durbin’s displeasure, the identical script—fire Americans and replace them H-1B visa holders—is playing out at Abbott, headquartered in suburban Chicago. Durbin sent off a blistering letter to Abbott’s Chief Executive Officer Miles White urging him to cancel the estimated 180 layoffs. During a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Durbin learned that the targeted employees had been told that they would be terminated on April 22 after training their replacements who will come mostly from India. Rubbing salt into the wounds, the new overseas employees will be sent back to India after being trained, and will therefore not be able to contribute tax revenues to the local economy.
 
In his letter, Durbin called out White for “harsh and insensitive conduct” that cannot be justified “by whatever marginal financial benefit might accrue to your company which is already making billions of dollars in profits every year.” Abbott reported 2015 net earnings of $2.59 billion on $20.4 billion in sales. The crass corporate behavior offends even pro-immigration Durbin, a leading Democrat on the failed Gang of Eight amnesty legislation.
 
Perrero ended his testimony with a question that many Americans are asking: How can our lawmakers allow this to happen? By “this,” Perrero means putting qualified Americans on unemployment insurance, creating great family anxiety, and eventually even take low-paying jobs that may end plans to send their children to college.
 
The H-1B visa has an ugly 25-year history. H-1B visas were introduced in 1990, and the annual cap has reached as high as 195,000. Today, the maximum level is 85,000, including 20,000 who have earned American university master’s degrees. President Obama and the Silicon Valley lobby have exerted intense pressure on Congress to lift or even eliminate the cap.
 
Under the law, visa users must have specialized training or a bachelor's degree in the subject for which they are being hired; they must be offered the prevailing wage for that work, and they can take only jobs for which the employers could not find a qualified American worker. But employers have consistently broken the law, and gotten away with their violations. Countless studies from bipartisan think tanks have exposed the fraud and abuse. The Center for Investigative Reporting, the New England Public Policy Center for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Economic Policy Institute have spotlighted the flagrant deception and abuse common in the H1-B program. A 2011 General Accounting Office report concluded that the departments of Labor and Homeland Security have ignored their oversight and enforcement responsibilities as they apply to visa workers' qualifications and wages.
 
To date, despite numerous congressional hearings, the visa’s flaws and its inherent dangers to American workers remain. But several presidential candidates have made visas and their deleterious effect on Americans an essential part of their campaigns, and created an uptick in the general public’s awareness, a long overdue step in the right direction.
 
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Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org
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