One of the reasons there's so much fear, uncertainty and doubt in the debate over the demand for foreign technology workers in the United States is that high-profile people in the debate make ridiculous claims that too often go unchallenged. The most outrageous example I've seen in a long time came on Sunday, when immigration reform advocate Ron Hira claimed on national TV that large U.S. companies, including Bank of America and IBM, have policies in place to hire foreigners to displace American workers. Fortunately, that particularly egregious claim was challenged by Hira's nemesis, Vivek Wadhwa.
Hira and Wadhwa, two of the most frequently cited voices in their respective camps, are both academics. Hira, who champions efforts to rein in the H-1B and other programs that bring foreign technology workers to the United States, is an associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology. Wadhwa, an outspoken advocate for expanding opportunities for foreign technology workers to settle here, is director of research at Duke University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization. The two sparred on the CNN program "Your Money," which is hosted by CNN's Ali Velshi.
At one point, Velshi asked Hira whether it was his concern that companies are deliberately refraining from hiring Americans and are bringing in younger foreigners as a means of lowering wages, and whether this is a widespread phenomenon.
"I think it's quite widespread right now," Hira replied. "You've got companies like IBM, Bank of America, Pfizer, Wachovia that have all had these policies in place."
Wadhwa reacted sharply to that claim, and Velshi stepped in.
"Let's clarify it," Velshi said. "You're saying, Ron, that there are companies, and you named them-Bank of America, IBM, Pfizer-that have policies that somehow do this -- they have policies."
"That's correct," Hira replied.
Wadhwa challenged Hira to provide proof that such policies exist. Velshi continued to seek a clarification from Hira.
"Is there a policy?" Velshi asked. "Do they have policies that do this, or are you saying it's a widespread practice?"
Apparently, Hira hadn't expected to be challenged. When he was, he backed down.
"They have it in practice," Hira replied. "I'll put it that way."
Wadhwa didn't let up. He challenged that statement, too.
"No they do not," he said. "That is a dishonest statement." Wadhwa took issue with Hira's contention that the practice was somehow institutionalized in these companies.
"There are some outliers-there are some bad companies," Wadhwa acknowledged. "There may be some stupid manager who did something stupid. But when you say that all these big companies have policies to not hire Americans and to displace them, this is complete nonsense. This is the rhetoric that's hurting American competitiveness. We have this xenophobia, this stupidity, and it's scaring the world's best and brightest away, and the American economy is going to decline because of this."
I don't know whether the rhetoric is scaring the best and brightest away. But I do know that making the wild claim on national TV that Bank of America, IBM, Pfizer and Wachovia have policies in place to bring in foreign workers as a means of displacing American workers is horribly irresponsible. If Ron Hira is going to continue to argue the case for immigration reform in the media and in Congressional hearings, he would be well advised to stick with the truth and to end his policy, practice, or whatever it is, to deceive the public.