Dr. Norm Matloff: Joyce Plotkin On Kennedy`s Support For The American Tech Community
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September 01, 2009, 03:15 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes:
Let me first make my usual disclaimer that I am a lifelong Democrat. I`ll add that whatever errors Ted Kennedy may have committed in his earlier life, he did evolve into someone who had a deep, genuine desire for social justice.

Having said that, the op-ed linked below confirms my longheld suspicions that even Kennedy felt that the "greater good" demanded that he cave in to the moneyed, powerful special interests on the H-1B work visa—the tech industry lobbyists, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the universities and so on.

To many of us, H-1B serves as an exemplar of the loss of our democracy. I`ve mentioned before, for instance, public statements by Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Tom Davis explicitly stating that Congress enacted expansions to the H-1B program because of industry campaign money.

Joyce Plotkin, the author of the linked opinion piece,[Plotkin: Kennedy championed the tech community, Mass High Tech, August 31, 2009] is certainly in a position to know about the politics of H-1B. She served with a Massachusetts tech industry trade group for 22 years, according to one article I read, before she retired this year. I recall being on a panel with her in 1995.

Ms. Plotkin portrays the situation as one in which Sen. Kennedy formulated fair comprises between industry and labor on the H-1B issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, one AFL-CIO official told me in 2004 that Kennedy`s aides literally laughed in her face, saying (I`m paraphrasing), "You [unions] don`t count." Soon afterward, this labor official was so discouraged that she decided to seek another job.

And note that this occurred during the dot-com bust, a time when Kennedy should have been even more concerned about the impact of H-1B on U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Instead, Congress enacted a 20,000-visa increase to H-1B, by creating a special new category for foreign students at U.S. universities, and even more significantly, expanded the loopholes which enable employers to legally pay H-1Bs below-market wages.

Over the years, Kennedy would from time to time pay lip service to the fact that H-1B is used by employers as a vehicle for cheap labor, etc. But he always supported H-1B expansion when it came to authoring and voting for legislation. He played a key role in the bill expanding H-1B in 2000, in spite of the release of a GAO report that was highly critical of the visa, a month before the legislation was passed. And of course he co-authored the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in 2007 that would have been devastating to U.S. citizen and permanent resident programmers and engineers.

Plotkin makes a big point of the retraining funds in the 1998 bill, ostensibly designed to reduce H-1B usage. But as we critics pointed out at the time, this was a purely cosmetic action that would not—and could not—impact H-1B usage. This was confirmed by a Department of Commerce report a few years later, and most tellingly, by a public admission by Sun Microsystems that the training funds were never intended to reduce H-1B usage. Sun, of course, had been one of the leading lobbyists pushing that 1998 bill.

Plotkin`s remarks below don`t match the blunt remarks of Bennett and Davis I cited above—Davis said, "This is not a popular bill with the public. It`s popular with the CEOs...This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money"—but they give us yet another look at the role of money politics in H-1B, very sad.