Politics & Policy

Mark Zuckerberg’s Cynical Ploy to Get Cheap Foreign Labor

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

There are two kinds of commemorative days/weeks/months. There’s the nonprofit, “awareness” type, such as Black History Month or World Down Syndrome Day, intended to show solidarity for some cause. Then there’s the for-profit, commercial variety, like International Pickle Week or California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month, which are simply business marketing campaigns.

And then there’s the profit-seeking effort masquerading as cause-promotion. That’s what June’s Immigrant Heritage Month is.

Just as International Pickle Week was dreamed up by the Pickle Packers International trade association to sell more fermented cucumbers, Immigrant Heritage Month is a project that Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg dreamed up to hold down his labor costs by importing more cheap foreign labor. But at least the pickle people are up-front about their goals: They want to help their clients make more money by persuading people to buy more pickles. (More power to them — pickles are great.)

Immigrant Heritage Month is a project that Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg dreamed up to hold down his labor costs by importing more cheap foreign labor.

Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is dressing up his unpopular business objectives with a sham commemoration. It doesn’t even make much sense; one can celebrate Mexican heritage or Armenian heritage or Irish heritage. But what is “immigrant heritage”? Certainly, immigrants themselves undergo a shared experience of adapting to a new country, but what distinctive heritage do their descendants inherit from it, especially since everybody’s ancestors came from somewhere else? The campaign is a counterfeit from beginning to end.

In his initial foray into rent-seeking through immigration policy, a PAC dubbed FWD.us, Zuckerberg was more forthright about his motivations. Established in the spring of 2013, in the middle of the Senate debate over Marco Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill, the PAC said it was “mobilizing the tech community in support of policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century, starting with comprehensive immigration reform.” Amid the boilerplate, the goal was plain: Give the tech industry easier access to cheap foreign labor. The list of supporters is a who’s who of Big Tech: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Eric Schmidt, Max Levchin, Sean Parker, Drew Houston, Mark Pinkus, John Doerr, Reid Hoffman, and so on.

In short order, FWD.us fell flat in Washington. It spread money around like a drunken sailor on payday but completely failed to achieve any of the objectives for which it was founded. All of Silicon Valley’s billions couldn’t get Rubio’s amnesty/immigration-surge bill over the finish line. It didn’t help that Joe Green, Zuckerberg’s college pal who led FWD.us, was a clueless gaffe-machine — he once said that the tech industry wanted to hire more foreign workers because they were better than Americans. He was fired last fall.

Adding to this organizational failure is the increasing attention on the tech industry’s manipulation of immigration policy — especially the H-1b program for importing cheap software drones — when there’s no shortage of tech workers. Over the past year, hundreds of American tech workers have been fired and subjected to the further humiliation of being forced, as a condition of the severance package, to train their foreign replacements. Southern California Edison was the first to hit the news for this conduct; Fossil also replaced its Americans with foreigners.

The most notable example happened at Disney, whose theme-parks division in October replaced some 250 American workers with cheaper foreigners on visas, whom the Americans had to train to do their jobs. The contrast between Disney’s “Happiest Place on Earth” image and this perfidy prompted even the maniacally open-borders New York Times to give it front-page attention. Washington also noticed, with a bipartisan group of ten senators demanding an investigation of the firings, causing the Labor Department to reverse an earlier decision not to look into the matter. (The probe is not likely to uncover any wrongdoing, because current law allows employers to use the H-1b program to replace U.S. workers, despite false claims to the contrary by H-1b boosters.)

What are tech billionaires looking for cheaper imported labor to do? Their initial lobbying effort was a bust, and the harmful effects of their pet program are starting to get noticed. How to dress up their business objectives in the warm glow of sentimentality? Immigrant Heritage Month!

Zuckerberg has wrapped his rent-seeking in happy talk, assisted by a compliant media. Even if my own attempt to turn Cesar Chavez’s birthday into National Border Control Day had Zuckerberg’s money behind it, the media could be counted on to ignore it or, if it got traction, “expose” it as part of a sinister plot.

But Immigrant Heritage Month has gotten traction, because reporters and editors agree with its ostensible goals. Helped by a presidential mention in a weekly radio address, this fake commemoration has been covered by MSNBC, VOA, E!, Us Weekly, and elsewhere. Wal-Mart has signed on. In another year or two, the Today Show will make it a regular feature and the Times will run a six-part series on the commemoration every June.

But none of that would happen if Zuckerberg called his effort by a more accurate name: Cheap Foreign Labor Month.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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