Recommended Immigration Reading on H-2Bs, H-1Bs, and Border Tunnels

By David North on August 12, 2015

I see a lot of writing on immigration subjects every day, and while much of it is repetitive or grossly misleading (e.g., "there is a shortage of skilled workers in the United States so we need more foreign workers"), there is the occasional gem. Here are three examples.

BuzzFeed Article. The best single item is a long, detailed, and fascinating report on the squalor and exploitation in the H-2B program that was written by Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger, and Jeremy Singer-Vine that appeared on the BuzzFeed website.

It opens with two H-2B workers on an innocent midnight ride in backwoods Louisiana being stopped and harassed by the local sheriff simply because the two women had briefly left the plantation-style job site. The boss, an ally of the sheriff, wanted all of his workers to stay in his lousy housing when not peeling crawfish and sicced the cops on his workers when they went out on a double date. It wasn't as if they had done something evil, like joining a union, they just were not on his premises in the middle of the night.

This is the article's summary:

The H-2 visa program invites foreign workers to do some of the most menial labor in America. Then it leaves them at the mercy of their employers. Thousands of these workers have been abused — deprived of their fair pay, imprisoned, starved, beaten, raped, and threatened with deportation if they dare complain. And the government says it can do little to help.

The investigative report reflects a lot of fieldwork, much of it in out-of-the-way places, and carries with it a sober assessment of how little the government does to protect these workers.

This is exactly the kind of detailed, hard-hitting investigative reporting that is needed all over the immigration policy field — the kind we rarely see.

Norm Matloff's "On Closer Inspection" Blog. While the long report just cited is a splendid, one-off product, Norm Matloff, a computer sciences professor at UC Davis provides a steady flow of really superior postings focused on the abuses of the H-1B Program.

Matloff lives and works near Silicon Valley; he follows the careers of his graduate students in the high tech industries; and brings to bear both vast knowledge and a clear-eyed perception of how the bosses in this industry have managed to bamboozle American politicians into believing them on the "high quality" of the foreign workers and the overall "shortage" of American talent. Matloff argues that it is the youth of the H-1Bs, and their lower-than-market wages, that are the twin attractions of these workers to their well-connected employers.

New Yorker Article on Border Tunnels. While I share the judgment of my colleague Jerry Kammer on the bias in much of this magazine's reporting on immigration issues, I must commend it for an intriguing article in the August 3 issue on the skills of the Mexican cartels at tunnel building.

I have expressed my puzzlement in several postings about all the tunnels that the bad guys seem to build under our southern border and why they are so hard for the Border Patrol to detect. It is particularly galling because the tunnels are not out in the remote desert, they are usually in a few narrow urban corridors, such as near the San Ysidro port of entry just south of San Diego or in or near Nogales and Douglas, Ariz., places under close surveillance by our people.

Why should a really, really high-tech nation like ours, with a well-funded Border Patrol, be outwitted so regularly by criminals from a developing nation?

Monte Reel, a Chicago journalist, sketches one of the reasons: the impressive organizational and engineering skills of the cartels in this regard — some of the more sophisticated tunnels have rails and overhead lights as well as ventilation systems. To date, the cartel's technology has not been matched by that of the U.S. government, whose tunnel-detecting devices too often lead to false positives, according to Reel.

Further, there is the matter of motivation. If you have a tunnel, you can take marijuana worth $50 a pound wholesale and re-sell it for something like $500 a pound; that's a powerful incentive. (The Border Patrol routinely values a pound of pot at the latter figure.)

Reel does not mention (maybe in the New Yorker tradition) the use of the tunnels for illegal immigration, though there must be some of that. On the other hand, the basic criminal math supports the economics of drug smuggling over people smuggling. If a coyote brings in an illegal alien for say, $7,500, and he weighs 150 pounds, the rate per pound is $50. If the same criminal uses a tunnel for importing marijuana instead, the profit per pound is $450.

I still think that it would be an excellent idea if a senior Border Patrol officer, together with a DOD scientist, paid a visit to Israel and asked about how they cope with the tunnels into and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel is good at this sort of thing.