Controversial ad rails against H1-B visas

Anti-immigrant group’s message in BART system worries Indians, the largest beneficiaries of the program

 

Ritu Jha

 

A controversial poster targeting H1-B visa workers have been placed across the Bay Area Rapid Transit train system in California.

The 200 signs have been placed at San Francisco’s Civic Center station and Oakland’s 19th Street station, with a few more scattered across other stations and in trains.

The poster declares, “US tech workers, your companies think you are expensive, undeserving and expendable. Congress, fix H-1B laws so companies must seek and hire US workers.”

The campaign got going just two weeks before the April 2, the day H1-B visa filing starts for fiscal year 2019.

The campaign has been promoted by Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) a non-profit organization educating the public on immigration that has paid $80,000 to BART. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism in the US, describes PFIR as an anti-immigrant group.

According to a blog from the US Tech Workers, a group that PFIR sponsors, “We launched our ad that encouraged Silicon Valley and other employers to hire US tech workers.”

They urged Congress to fix the visa program, asserting it has displaced US workers since 1990.

It went on to claim that, despite the focus on local tech workers, “PFIR seeks to enhance the working conditions of people worldwide through enhancing economic, health, social and environmental conditions in developing countries worldwide.”

Dibyendu Roy, an IT engineer who commutes to the San Francisco for work told indica that though he had heard the news first on TV he had discounted its importance until he got into a train and saw the sign before him.

“This is not something you are expecting,” he said and added he has been living in the Bay Area for the past seven years and has not seen such ads.

A poster at the BART station in San Francisco.

In an emailed response, a BART spokesperson told indica, “This campaign complies with free speech laws that allow advertisers to express a point of view without regard to the viewpoint.”

BART does not endorse these ads.

The Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) and U.S. Tech Workers did not respond to the phone calls nor email.

But PFIR Executive Director Kevin Lynn talking to the http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com says his group simply wants regulations for an H-1B visa program that he says is broken.

 

He said, “Going back to 1990, the idea was to attract [talent; it was called the genius visa at the time. And when you see who is coming over, these folks are really quite ordinary in many ways. Twenty-six percent have only an associate’s degree.”

Lynn said employers are using the program to bring in foreign labor because it is cheaper.

“They are accusing a particular group of people,” Roy said. Yet, nowhere do the ads explicitly say “Indian” or though that is the community most likely to be impacted by any of the suggested measures. Indians make up a significant fraction of the employees in tech companies in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Even the CEOs of Google and Abode are Indian.

“They are very clever. They are not blaming anyone directly,” Roy said.

Roy, himself affected by the green card backlog, told indica, “It’s okay if they asking to fix the H-1B visa program. That can fix a lot of other issues. But stereotyping [by proxy] and putting posters all over the station, it’s kind of really hard. What does ‘US worker’ mean? It’s not just US-born [workers] but even people like me, it could be any green card holder if the system was right,” he said.

Krishan Bansal of the Republican Hindu Coalition said it looked like a gimmick.

“I really fail to understand the motive. Who are people behind it, unnecessarily trying to drive propaganda,” he asked.

He felt it was worrying that these people did not understand that people on H-1B visas are not a threat to American workers, but called in only after the Department of Labor is assured that someone with the requisite skills are not available.

“If you talk about the technology sector there are more job requirements than we can fill right now,” Bansal said.

He said that Indians are in the US legally and contributing to the economy.

“Suddenly they feel they are nowhere,” Bansal said, before harking back to the ad.

“It’s going to hurt the US economy.”

The campaign is scheduled to run through mid-April.

Meanwhile, Prerna Lal, an attorney, and a founder of Dream Activist, an online advocacy network led by undocumented youth has started a petition asking Grace Crunican, General Manager and  Paul Oversier Assistant General Manager of BART to take down the anti-immigrant H-1B posters.

It says PFIR, is a white nationalist front group designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “anti-immigrant.” They have no place in our community and only serve to promote hatred and violence against immigrant communities living and working in the Bay Area. Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), the hate group behind the posters is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “anti-immigrant.”

Rather than work for local tech workers, their sole objective is to spark hate and violence against legal immigrants who live, and work in our communities.

These posters spread hate and vitriol, make BART passengers feel unsafe, and are in clear violation of BART’s own advertisement guidelines that prohibit disparaging certain groups of people. We urge you to stop aligning yourselves with white supremacy, white nationalism and anti-immigrant hate, and work together to keep BART safe for all.

According to the recent report  “Communities on Fire”  published by the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) , a national nonpartisan non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the US states that as white supremacist groups and anti-Muslim sentiment continue to grow nationwide, and SAALT has documented a 45 percent increase in hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at the communities above in the year after President Trump’s election.

According to SAALT, the FBI’s 2016 hate crimes statistics released past November, shows, since 2015, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 19 percent, anti-Hindu hate crimes increased by 100 percent and anti-Sikh hate crimes increased by 17 percent.

These surges are on top of the historic spike in hate crimes reported in the FBI’s 2015 data, now marking the highest levels of violence aimed at our communities since the year after 9/11. Tragically, hate has become the new normal for our communities.

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