‘Ample evidence companies were misusing H1-B visas’

NYT’s Julia Preston cites case of Infosys at immigration conference.

By Sereen Thahir

WASHINGTON, DC: The Miller Center, a public policy institute affiliated with the University of Virginia, hosted its Rosemary P. and John W. Galbraith Conference on Immigration entitled “Immigration Reform: Politics, Policy and Process”.

The opening session of the two-day meet, October 10-11th, was on the subject of immigration reform and its coverage in the media, moderated by Ray Suarez, the chief national correspondent on PBS NewsHour. Sitting on the panel were Ted Hesson of Fusion, a joint venture of ABC and Univision, Ryan Lizza, a Washington correspondent from the New Yorker, Julia Preston, an immigration correspondent for The New York Times, and Beth Reinhard, a Washington correspondent for the New Yorker.

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Suarez began the panel with a question directed at the two Washington correspondents regarding their coverage of immigration when it is not an issue placed at the front and center of national discourse. Both Lizza and Reinhard talked about its relevance during and right after the 2012 presidential election, when the Republican Party began reassessing its platform regarding minorities. Suarez then asked the two immigration correspondents as to the nature of their coverage and how it was different. Preston claimed her responsibility was in three parts: covering the substance of the issue, the political reform process, and the political evolution out in the country in regards to immigration.

“Democracy is not a beat at The New York Times,” she said in reference to the importance in covering the third category.

The discussion then shifted to the role of informing the public. Immigration, as Suarez remarked, is a subject where people have strong opinions that are not based on actual fact. How did each of these correspondents see their roles in educating and informing the public? In discussing the causes for such a state, Lizza brought up the level of polarization in the country and the rise of partisan media, likening it to an “almost tribal system to explode myths”. Preston remarked that it was not her responsibility to change people’s minds explaining that there was an editorial section in the Times for that. Rather, she saw the responsibility of an immigration correspondent as one to tell stories that are fair and convey the reality of issues.

The panel then opened to questions from the audience. When asked about the significance of the DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who came to the country when they were children and wanted to go pursue higher education, all panelists concluded that they were the emotional heart of the movement and a topic that most could agree was worthy of pursuing, regardless of party.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science from the University of California, Riverside, believed that the media had a role in conflating the term immigrant with Latino, an issue that consequently blows the complexity of the issue apart. Citing the growth of the Asian-American population, he remarked that coverage was seriously lacking with respect to all immigrant populations. Panelists responded by saying that it was more tempting to see it through the Latino lens since that was the largest population of immigrants, documented and otherwise.

The panelists did admit, however, that Asian-Americans were the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the country, despite not being the largest. The topic that more Americans grapple with, however, is what to do with the legal status of undocumented workers rather than those who are here legally, and who often get little sympathy from the American public because they are seen to be taking away jobs from domestic workers.

The panel concluded on a question the increase of H1-B visas and the effect it had on possibly bringing down the wages of domestic workers in the United States. Panelists responded by saying that it was an issue that received support from both sides of the spectrum and especially highlighted the role of high-tech firms as a special interest group that kept pushing for more and more visas.

While acknowledging that there were more regulations on the side of the employee rather than the employer, Preston stated that there was ample evidence that many of these large companies were misusing H1-B visas to deflate the costs of workers by bringing in workers from India, citing an ongoing whistleblower investigation case against Infosys.

(Deepak Chitnis contributed to this story.)


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