What Does Bill Gates Get Wrong About Immigration?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

When Bill Gates joined fellow businessmen Warren Buffett and Sheldon Adelson in a New York Times op-ed about immigration reform, he ignited understandable backlash and disagreement. In some ways, the article reflected the frustration with Congress that so many, average Americans, immigrants, and others alike, are feeling. Yet it simultaneously takes on a tone of arrogance funneled through a narrow viewpoint, ultimately producing an argument that falls a bit short.

The piece begins with a critique of Congress, saying that, “They are telling us that immigration reform — long overdue — is now hopeless. American’s deserve better than this,” nothing particularly unique or informatory compared to your average fed up official. But then they round out the claim, arguing that, “The three of us vary in our politics and would differ also in our preferences about the details of an immigration reform bill. But we could without doubt come together to draft a bill acceptable to each of us.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) took issue with this point when he addressed the opinion piece on the Senate floor, pointing out that three “super-billionaires” finding a mutually acceptable reform isn’t particularly difficult between three individuals with a great deal of interests in common. Congress is the embodiment of many interests and opinions; it is as varied as the states and needs they represent. The comparison was a poorly thought out one, not particularly constructive to the argument that Congress must learn to negotiate beyond gridlock. Sessions goes on to take issue with their lack of respect for Congress. He argues that it indirectly shows a lack of respect for those who elected Congress. Since polls suggest that a minority of those voters still retain Congressional respect themselves, this is perhaps an unfair assertion.

Then, they discuss the need for skilled workers in computer science and technology. Given Microsoft’s announcement July 17 that restructuring “will result in the elimination of up to 18,000 positions over the next year,” a number that The Verge reports is the largest reduction yet, 14 percent of Microsoft’s workforce. This is a point worth addressing somewhat carefully. Senator Sessions bring it up as proof that they have enough good quality engineers and experts, but simply don’t have the jobs for them. Microsoft calls it elimination “through synergies and strategic alignment” while Sessions calls it streamlining. On the one hand, a more efficient business is a better one.

The company has explained the losses as a result of changes in business plans, and if a change in circumstance places a company in a position where jobs are no longer viable, acting on that new reality only makes sense. It doesn’t mean that hiring has stagnated, or that new jobs won’t become available. In general, few would argue that the computer and technology industry is suffering — it’s hardly on the list of at risk employment. Having said that, 14 percent of the work force is a major downsize, and if nothing else, there’s approximately 18,000 newly unemployed ex-Microsoft workers ready for jobs.

Even when the piece narrows in on specific legislation that was passed up, or that they believe needs revamping, such as the immigrant investor program, it’s clear that priorities lie within the business realm and from a very specific viewpoint within the business realm. While some do argue that a strong guest worker program could help prevent illegal immigration — if a legal pathway were available through employers unable to find specialized workers in the States — others argue that American’s inevitably lose work opportunities. Abuses of the program are too likely.

Of course, as with most opinion pieces, some of the material makes sense, usually the more general goals, such as an interest in allowing a pathway to citizenship for those who have lived in the U.S., benefited from aid and education, only to be removed before they may contribute. “We believe it borders on insanity to train intelligent and motivated people in our universities — often subsidizing their education — and then to deport them when they graduate,” they write. They’re focus on skilled immigrants and on those “illegal residents” who have “obtain[ed] citizenship, though only after they had earned the right to do so.”

For right wingers, this could be read as an invitation to illegals — that they’ll be allowed citizenship eventually, even if they have to break the law to get there. For left wingers, it ignores the issue of refugees and the humanitarian problems at the root of much of the immigration controversy. None of the some 60,000 to 74,000 unaccompanied minors expected to cross illegally into the U.S. this year — according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and Kids in Need of Defense — are likely to have their masters in computer programming.

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