Illegal Immigrants Are Taking Americans’ Jobs

Uh, no they aren’t.

Most Americans simply don’t apply for jobs harvesting fruits and vegetables in California, where one of every eight people is out of work, according to government data for a federal seasonal farmworker program analyzed by The Associated Press.

And the few unemployed Americans who apply through official channels usually don’t stay on in the fields, a point comedian Stephen Colbert — dressed as a field hand — has alluded to in recent broadcasts on Comedy Central.

"It’s just not something that most Americans are going to pack up their bags and move here to do," said farmer Steve Fortin, who pays $10.25 an hour to foreign workers to trim strawberry plants for six weeks each summer at his nursery near the Nevada border. He has spent $3,000 this year ensuring domestic workers have first dibs on his jobs in the sparsely populated stretch of the state, advertising in newspapers and on an electronic job registry.

High-Tech Workers Shun 3rd World Countries—Like the U.S.!

The potential arc of this economic downturn should be sobering for Americans.  We are increasing viewed as akin to a third-world country, or at least a developing country.  To wit:

[W]ould-be immigrants from India and China are finding new career opportunities at home as those economies grow relatively quickly while the U.S. economy sags and its political climate appears less welcoming.

Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied H-1B visas, said that trend has been compounded by what he sees as rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. "The best and the brightest who would normally come here are saying, ‘Why do we need to go to a country where we are not welcome, where our quality of life would be less [emphasis added], and we would be at the bottom of the social ladder?’" Mr. Wadhwa said.

The gist of this story is that the H-1B visas that are required for highly skilled people to be hired by American companies are down sharply.  Historically, all the allotted visas were snapped up, sometimes in a matter of hours after they are offered by the U.S. government.  The reason, for the most part, is that the tanking economy  has simply lessened the number of jobs for which these potential employees are needed, mainly in the high-tech industry.

But within the story, there are other dynamics that offer a glimpse of where we’re headed as a country.  We like to think of ourselves as the birthplace of great ideas and especially technological innovation.  Maybe not.

While the number of visa holders is small compared with the U.S. work force, their contribution is huge, employers say. For example, last year 35% of Microsoft’s patent applications in the U.S. came from new inventions by visa and green-card holders [emphasis added], according to company general counsel Brad Smith.

Google Inc. also says that the H-1B program allowed it to tap top talent that was crucial to its development. India native Krishna Bharat, for example, joined the firm in 1999 through the H-1B program, and went on to earn several patents while at Google. He was credited by the company as being the key developer of its Google News service. Today, he holds the title of distinguished research scientist.

Many politicians like to make the argument that the U.S. has the best and brightest and our systems are the envy of the world.  Lately, you hear especially Republicans making the claim (which is patently false) that we have the greatest medical system in the world.  Maybe if you want to get a tummy-tuck, but our health outcomes are mediocre compared to other countries.  Granted much of that may be due to our poor diet.  But we aren’t the best at everything.

The falloff in H-1B visa applications is also attributed to the anti-immigrant prejudice we are perceived as embracing.  Moreover, American companies, who must prove they can’t find Americans workers with the skills they need before being granted an H-1B visa, don’t cotton to having their motives questioned.

[I]mmigration lawyers say some would-be employers are put off by a crackdown on fraud. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the H-1B program, has been dispatching inspectors on surprise company visits to verify that H-1B employees are performing the jobs on the terms specified. The fraud-detection unit in coming months is expected to inspect up to 20,000 companies with H-1Bs and other temporary worker visas.

"It’s an invasive procedure that is both stressful for the employer and the foreign national employee," said Milwaukee lawyer Jerome Grzeca, whose employment-visa business is down 40% since last year.

Politicians, of course, like to claim that these foreigners are taking jobs away from Americans.  Well, be careful what you wish for.  Soon, they may be taking the best jobs, keeping them for themselves in country, and exporting other jobs to Americans, whose crashing economy has forced them to work for less.

If people, especially those who are driving invention and tech progress, don’t want to come here, in part because they feel their “quality of life would be less,” what does that say about our future?

Will the dynamic that we’ve had for the past decades, indeed centuries, change?  Will India and China begin to outsource their work to Americans who are adjusting to lower wages and investments?  Will we become the new Indians and Chinese – skilled but more cost-efficient because of our lowered standard of living?

Obama Bucking the Trend

This raises the question whether the U.S. is out of step with the rest of the Western world, where conservatives are on the rise.  One interpretation is that whoever is in power during these economic times gets the boot from voters.  But conservatives may not be winning as much as the fringe groups. 

The vote also saw the all-white British National Party pick up two seats in the EU assembly — joining far-right parties from the Netherlands, Hungary and Austria that excoriated Muslims, immigrants and minorities.

…In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic party took 17 percent of the country’s votes, winning four of 25 seats.

Three of 22 seats in Hungary went to the far-right Jobbik party, which describes itself as Euro-skeptic and anti-immigration. Critics say the party is racist and anti-Semitic.

What We Need in a Supreme Court Justice

President Obama is getting lots of advice about who should replace retiring Supreme Court justice David Souter.  Basically, the advice is all the same”  “Pick one that’s like me!”

The new justice should be Hispanic, or black, or a woman, or gay, as if being a member of a class will engender jurisprudence.

I won’t argue against the notion that certain life experiences can infuse one’s view of what the Constitution protects.  And the right’s criticism that the new justice should only interpret the law, not make it, and be a “strict constructionist” is laughable.  The right, after all, was perfectly happy to have a close majority of the Supreme Court decide an election.  And they wanted the courts to interfere with a husband’s right to make health decisions for his incurable, terminal wife.  Don’t make law, they say, unless it is a law they like.

Empathy is not what I’d look for in someone to take Souter’s seat. Experience is.  Experience in the law, sure, but also in the fresh experience in America.  I think the president should chose someone who is close to his or her Americanization.  By that I mean I’d like to see someone who, if not a naturalized citizen, is the offspring of immigrants.  Someone who saw his or her parents struggle to learn the language and customs, fight discrimination and sacrifice to allow their child to fulfill the America dream.

Certainly a few of the usual suspects bandied about as nominees would fit this description.  But the important thing is not that they are Hispanic in particular, but that they have witnessed first hand the Americanization process.  I think such a person has a particular outlook on what the American experience can mean.  I don’t want them to rule in any particular way on immigration or any other issue.  I just think American justice and freedom is a bit fresher in their minds than those of us who aren’t as close to  the immigrant experience.