Let Us Now Praise the SPLC, Sort Of

By Jerry Kammer, February 12, 2014

In December 2011, we at the Center for Immigration Studies published a 38-page investigative report on the State Department program that issues J-1 visas to foreign college students so they can do seasonal work in the United States. The report, "Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange", began with bullet-point criticisms that the report fleshed out in detail.

We showed that the Summer Work Travel Program (SWT):

  • Has become a cheap-labor program under the guise of cultural exchange;

  • Has monetized a foreign policy initiative, creating a multi-million dollar SWT industry that generates enormous profits under the mantle of public diplomacy and presses for continual expansion around globe;

  • Displaces young Americans from the workplace at a time of record levels of youth unemployment;

  • Provides incentives for employers to bypass American workers by exempting SWT employers from taxes that apply to employment of Americans; and

  • Depends upon young foreigners who must spend several thousand dollars in fees, travel costs, and health insurance. As a result, many are virtually indentured to U.S. employers and are therefore unable to challenge low pay and poor working and housing conditions.

So it is interesting to see the announcement by the Southern Poverty Law Center trumpeting its findings in new report titled: "Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers".

Boasts the SPLC: "The SPLC has found that the J-1Visa Exchange Visitor Program has been transformed into a source of cheap, exploitable labor for employers, undercutting U.S. workers and damaging the nation's image abroad. Many students leave the United States disillusioned and deeply in debt."

Of course, we're not surprised that the SPLC inflates the news value of its report and fails to acknowledge our work even in a footnote. After all, we were one of the targets of a reprehensible SPLC campaign of character assassination a few years ago. We subsequently investigated and exposed that campaign.

Now, rather than revisit the dirty work carried out by the SPLC 's smear-and-slime-job specialists Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, we will once again recognize that the organization has some people committed to good work that demonstrates honesty and integrity.

But we think the SPLC would have shown more integrity with the roll-out of their new report had they recognized the good work done by others, including CIS, the Economic Policy Institute's Daniel Costa, Paul Solman of the PBS News Hour, and the Associated Press.