Claim of 'Policies' to Displace U.S. Workers Is Destined to Backfire

Don Tennant

My post earlier this week, "Irresponsible Claim: U.S. Firms Have 'Policies' to Displace American Workers," has sparked quite an uproar among people who disagree with my contention that immigration reform advocate Ron Hira was untruthful when he claimed that major companies in the United States displace U.S. workers in favor of foreign workers as a matter of corporate policy.


The uproar aside, I was surprised to find that University of California at Davis professor Norm Matloff, a U.S. technology workers' rights advocate for whom I have the highest regard and who is consistently reasoned and knowledgeable in addressing these issues, was among those who failed to see the problem with Hira's contention. Hira had claimed during a debate on CNN with Vivek Wadhwa, a well-known advocate for expanding opportunities for foreign technology workers in the United States, that Bank of America, IBM, Pfizer and Wachovia have all instituted policies to displace U.S. workers.


In his H-1B/L-1/offshoring e-newsletter on Wednesday, Matloff wrote about the exchange between Hira and Wadhwa, and my coverage of it. He noted that in my response to a reader who commented on my post, I had made this statement:

Of course American workers are being displaced, Roy. Of course they are.

Unfortunately, Matloff chose not to include the rest of my comment. If he had, it would have given his readers a much more accurate understanding of where I'm coming from:

But the moment we take our eye off of what's happening in real life and start to make reckless claims like Hira's assertion that it is the policy of these very high-profile companies to displace American workers, we give companies like Infosys ammunition to plead a case that immigration reformers are making false claims. It's very similar to my longstanding argument that the anti-immigration haters have severely clouded the need to reform the H-1B program, because the voice of reform for so long was outshouted by the voice of hate. In this case, the true situation we have of American workers being displaced in practice is being clouded by the FUD created by the spread of a claim that massive corporations are doing this as a matter of corporate policy. Infosys says, "Show me the policy." And Infosys wins. I hate that.

If Matloff had included that part, it would have flown in the face of this portion of the same e-newsletter:

I've praised Don here before, and I've continued to find him to be exceptionally astute. Though I think he would admit to being biased a bit in favor of the industry, he usually makes a genuine attempt to be openminded. In this instance, though, Don dropped the ball.

As you can see, Matloff and I genuinely respect each other. But it's troubling that he would say he thinks that I would "admit to being biased a bit in favor of the industry." That's nonsense. I've never written anything to suggest such a thing. Anyone who cares can easily do a Google search and be reminded of a fair number of journalism awards I've been honored to receive over the years, specifically for calling "industry" to account for its actions. So Norm, I suggest you rethink going there.


It is a fact that there are documented cases in which American technology workers have been forced to train their H-1B replacements. That sickens me. It is a fact that U.S. workers have been displaced, laid off by companies that subsequently hired foreign workers on temporary visas. That's wrong, and that's an abuse of our visa programs that urgently needs to be fixed. What has to be understood, however, is that embellishing on the facts as a means of trying to fix those problems will inevitably backfire. That stuff just exacerbates the wrongdoing because the embellishment undermines the argument against them.


You can argue from now till the cows come home that Hira was being truthful when he initially claimed that IBM, Bank of America, Pfizer and Wachovia are out to displace U.S. workers as a matter of corporate policy. But you'll forever be thwarted by the simple fact that Hira backed down from that irresponsible claim when he was challenged on it. It's noteworthy that no one who has disagreed with me has bothered to mention that fact. They're all sidestepping Hira's own begrudging admission, "They have it in practice. I'll put it that way."


If Hira truly believed, and could demonstrate, that these American companies are out to displace American workers as a matter of corporate policy, why didn't he stick to his guns? That he couldn't, and that he put himself in that awkward position, is his own fault. He would have been much more convincing and effective if he had simply argued from the beginning that specific wrongs have been committed in practice, and that these wrongs need to be addressed. Instead, he came across as just another dissembling talking head. I can just imagine how the executives at companies like Infosys are grinning from ear to ear.

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