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It originally seemed like Democrats could only come out as winners in the debate over increasing the number of work visas for immigrant high-tech employees. The issue tops Silicon Valley’s wish list in this Congress, and the biggest squabbles have been between the pro-business and anti-immigration factions of the Republican Party. But representatives from some Northern California-based African American professional associations are asking Democrats to think twice before allowing more temporary worker and trainee visas, known as H1-B visas. The Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley has written to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt to say that increasing the number of skilled immigrants working in this country would reduce opportunities for black, Latino, and Native American engineers and computer programmers. Currently, there are 115,000 H1-B visas available in FY 2000 and 107,500 available in FY 2001. The visa numbers are set to decrease to 65,000 by FY 2002. The legislation favored by the high-tech community, sponsored by Reps. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would increase the H1-B allotment to 200,000 for FY 2001, FY 2002, and FY 2003. But the coalition believes those immigrants would take high-paying jobs that could otherwise go to minorities already living here. “We would expect you to stand up for those who have traditionally supported you,” reads the letter to Gephardt, written earlier this month. It is signed by officials from the Bay Area Chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates, the Silicon Valley Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, the Northern California Council of Black Professional Engineers, Books ‘n’ Bytes, The Technology Alliance for African American Students, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Black MBA Association, the National Society of Black Physicists, and the Human Resource Network of Black Professionals. “You should take note that the three states with highest demand for these H1-B’s have all taken steps to reduce African-American and Latino enrollment in their colleges, particularly in graduate and science programs. … Congressional approval of [the H1-B legislation] would extend and accelerate ethnic cleansing in the high-technology industry, lock the doors of opportunity for decades and harden racial inequality,” they write. Labor organizations and conservative groups that oppose immigration have also voiced concern about raising the caps on H1-B visas. The Federation of American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit organization concerned with overpopulation, has been outspoken in its opposition to increasing the number of H1-B visas. K.C. McAlpin, the group’s deputy director, fears that immigrants in the United States working on H1-Bs will accept lower salaries than American citizens, thus driving down the pay scale for all workers. He also agrees with the concerns of American minorities. “H1-Bs are used by companies to fill affirmative action slots,” he says. “Those jobs would otherwise go to American women and minorities.” But lobbyists for high-tech companies say jobs are being created so quickly that an influx of qualified immigrants is needed to fill them. Without more skilled workers, growth of their sector will slow, they say. The black professionals counter that instead of recruiting foreign workers to fill those jobs, the United States should invest in its own domestic labor force. “The amount needed to bring inner-city schools to current standards for high-technology instruction is about $20 billion, the same amount Congress recently spent on so-called ‘juvenile justice,’ ” they write in the letter. “ Congress has made it cheaper to recruit from the Indian Institute of Technology than from North Carolina A&T or Hampton University.” The bill’s supporters say the coalition is being unnecessarily divisive, pitting one minority group against another. “There are just not enough workers now�regardless of color,” says an aide to one Democrat supporting the bill. “Look at the unemployment rates. In the Valley, the rate is two percent. Among engineers, it’s almost nonexistent. These companies are not fixed on race. [The opposition] is being very divisive in pitting African Americans and Latinos against Asians.”

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