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Tech

Anti-Immigrant Ads Aimed At Tech Workers Are Running On Public Transit

A DC-based group called "Progressives For Immigration Reform" has posted ads across San Francisco that say a foreign-born tech workforce has made US workers seem “expensive, undeserving, and expendable.”

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An ad campaign against tech companies hiring foreign workers rolled out across San Francisco’s public transit system Thursday.

The campaign was paid for by Progressives for Immigration Reform, a DC-based group designated as “anti-immigrant” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (a civil rights nonprofit) in 2010.

The ads say cheap foreign labor has made US tech workers seem “expensive, undeserving, and expendable.” They advocate for laws requiring tech companies to hire US workers instead.

Awful, anti-immigrant ads in the BART station today. Where can I donate to support the exact opposite of this? 😞

Kevin Lynn, executive director at Progressives for Immigration Reform, said the campaign is about protecting US jobs. “The idea is to make immigration work for the citizens as a whole,” said Lynn, whose mother immigrated to the US from Ireland in 1952. “That’s what we’ve done for a long time, but it's not doing that now.”

The campaign cost $80,000, according to a spokesperson for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) where the ads were posted. The ads will run in stations and on trains for about one month, from March to April. Lynn declined to disclose the source of PFIR’s funding, but said it “comes from foundations that support our views on immigration.”

The campaign is part of a larger US Tech Workers campaign by the group, which, according to its website, is trying to unite US-born tech workers against the three-quarters of tech workers in Silicon Valley who were born outside the country.

“Americans now fill only 29% of the tech jobs in San Jose, the cradle of Silicon Valley. Despite the demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers, wages have been flat for years,” the website reads. “We believe for this generation entering the workforce, and for future generations to prosper, U.S. tech companies must seek and hire U.S. tech workers first.”

Because of the First Amendment, BART can’t remove the ads.

"It is important for our riders to know the ads contradict our values,” a transit spokesperson wrote via email. “As a transit system we can’t deny the ads. They comply with guidelines allowing advertisers to express a point of view without regard to the viewpoint expressed, consistent with First Amendment freedom of speech court rulings.”

The issue of how to regulate H-1B visas, which allow skilled workers from other countries to come to the US to work in tech jobs that can’t be filled by Americans, is the subject of much debate.

On the one side, there are large tech companies which require a steady stream of coders and programmers to fill seats, and believe more immigration drives more innovation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Fwd.us, a lobbying group focused on immigration reform, has been pushing its pro-immigration stance on the H-1B issue for five years.

On the other side are those who believe the influx of foreign-born workers is taking high-paying, skilled jobs away from Americans, and that the H-1B visa system enriches foreign companies that behave like labor farms.

“I don’t see where innovation necessarily comes from diversity,” Lynn said. “What it comes from is having an environment where you can hire your college graduates, put them into a good paying job, and allow them to innovate.”

While visa fraud does exist, concern about opportunities for US workers has tipped over into xenophobia in the past.

During his campaign, Donald Trump said he would do away with the skilled worker visa program entirely. He later scaled back those claims, but tweaks to the program under Trump’s Buy American, Hire American policy have made it harder to attain the visas.

Tech companies have widely opposed the president’s other attempts at immigration reform, with Facebook, Apple, Google, and others supporting DACA, and Apple, Google, Uber, and Tesla opposing the temporary ban on the US refugee program.

Multiple proposals for reforming the H-1B visa program are currently before Congress. Lynn said regulation should get rid of the lower two tiers of H-1B visas, or “almost 95% of the program.”

In response to new “anti-immigration policies,” San Francisco’s BART took a strong stance on immigration issues. Its board of directors passed a safe transit policy in June 2017, which banned federal agents from questioning riders, and stated its “commitment to stand together with the people of the Bay Area in opposing hate, violence, and acts of intolerance committed against our riding community and employees.”

“We're in the Bay Area to stay,” said Lynn. “We'll work in other tech centers across the United States. Our goal is to inform workers of what they need to do to bring pressure to their electeds to change this system that I think has run amok.”

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Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Caroline O’Donovan at caroline.odonovan@buzzfeed.com.

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