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Book Review: ‘Sold Out’, by Michelle Malkin and John Miano

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As the debate over immigration rages, it’s common for politicians skeptical of illegal immigration and the mass importation of unskilled labor to sing the praises of high-skilled immigrants, perhaps as a means of insulating themselves from charges of xenophobia.  

“Everyone agrees” that America needs as many highly-educated, professionally-credentialed immigrants as it can get. We have a severe shortage of graduates with scientific degrees and computer programming knowledge, don’t you know!  

Just ask any Silicon Valley CEO! And isn’t it sheer madness to educate foreign students in American universities, then send them back to their home countries in search of jobs? We should “staple a green card” to every diploma – it’s just common sense! We need “comprehensive reform” to fix our “broken” immigration system immediately!

Authors Michelle Malkin and John Miano – the latter a displaced tech-sector employee turned lawyer and advocate for American workers – dare to challenge this conventional wisdom with their new book Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires & Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels Are Screwing America’s Best & Brightest Workers. With a subtitle like that, no reader can claim to be ambushed by the authors’ view of their subject.

What will stun many readers is the sheer volume of history and legislative detail Malkin and Miano bring to the table. None of the viewpoints mentioned above as subjects of common agreement is remotely true. Conventional wisdom on high-end immigration lies in ruins after Malkin and Miano have their say.

The first part of the book is guaranteed to make even dedicated open-borders enthusiasts squirm in their seats, as the authors recount story after story of American tech workers forced to train their lower-paid foreign replacements, under threat of lost severance pay or even legal action if they refused. The mass replacement of Disney employees with imported labor in early 2015 is the galvanic event that kicks off Sold Out, but it’s by no means a unique story. At the beginning of the current immigration-crisis cycle, tech workers were among the few groups expressing serious reservations about high levels of legal immigration, while almost everyone else was focused on border-jumpers.

Malkin, who has the authorial voice throughout most of the book, describes the vaunted H-1B visa program as “the grandfather of all American worker sellouts,” implemented by “political tricks, Beltway influence peddlers, and legislative corruption behind the program.” Open-borders ideologues and special interests desperate for cheap labor have so thoroughly obscured the issue that even many immigration skeptics don’t realize there are many other programs for VIP immigrants… and, as Malkin shows, all of them are outrageously abused.

The easiest immigration myth to destroy is the absurd contention that America lacks enough native STEM graduates and computer experts to meet employer demands. This is nonsense on its face – how can we have a fantastically expensive, Democrat-dominated primary education system, capped off by an overpriced university system currently in the process of inflating a doomsday loan bubble, plus chronic high unemployment and a shrunken workforce, but also have a shortage of qualified American workers for the best jobs?  

As Sold Out details, the problem is that Big Business wants cheap labor to perform those jobs, so they’ve corrupted reasonable measures to welcome high-potential immigrants into pipelines for budget-priced foreign labor. Malkin and Miano demonstrate how “the only persistent tech worker shortage in America is a shortage of workers at the wage employers want to pay.” They have little difficulty rounding up quotes from business executives who put the matter in precisely those terms.

Crony interests are making a lot of money filling that demand, and they’re not always polite to their bargain-basement workers, who are often literally kept in basements, or crammed into overcrowded apartments by visa-mill proprietors. Some of these operations exploit visa programs intended to provide short-term U.S. residency to fill specific, temporary job slots to build up a warehouse inventory of immigrant labor, rented out to companies that cannot fail to understand they are perverting the law. Student visa programs have also been corrupted into cheap-labor scams, with phony “universities” run by con artists serving as vending machines for immigrant workers.

Malkin and Miano recount harrowing tales of worker arrangements that amount to indentured servitude, presided over by some eminently indictable brokers. The saga of multi-millionaire landlord Lakireddy Bali Reddy simply must be read to be believed. It’s the kind of story Hollywood might turn into a black comedy… if anyone on the Left was even slightly interested in alerting American voters to the dangers of immigration abuse.

The scale of the conspiracy lined up against American workers is staggering.  

It has been made politically and culturally difficult to talk about even the most blatantly illegal abuses of American citizenship, with the result that simple border security and the enforcement of clear-cut immigration laws have somehow become controversial. Good luck to anyone who wants to climb over that mountain of horsefeathers to ask tough questions about the legal immigration of high-skilled workers and university students… the kind of immigration everyone supposedly embraces without reservation.  

Malkin’s chapter on the “Legion of Doom” – the alliance of billionaire businessmen, high-powered lobbyists, political ideologues, and activist groups opposed to any meaningful restraint on H-1B and similar visa programs – provides an unblinking look at a fearsome enemy. To put it bluntly, there is no financial or political force in D.C. remotely comparable to the Legion of Doom – no one whose interest in true reform is as potent as those interested in expanding and loosening these already-corrupt programs.

“How about Donald Trump?” you might ask, thinking of the 2016 presidential candidate most noted for criticizing immigration abuses. Malkin offers an immigration report card for all of the candidates at the end of the book, including several who have dropped out of the race since she wrote it. It’s not pretty. Trump gets the most attention, and while Malkin judges his immigration reform blueprint to be a “serious, impressive, and encouraging document,” she archly wonders if he’s actually read it.  

Trump’s rhetorical focus has been more on low-end, flagrantly illegal abuses, such as the notorious “illegal alien murders in sanctuary cities” atrocities. He tends to speak much better of a “path toward legalization” for “outstanding” immigrants. On the Democrat side, Malkin pictures Bernie Sanders as a classic example of talking tough about immigration abuse – he’s one of the few candidates in either party with stern criticism for the sacred H-1B visa program – but then voting the exact opposite of his rhetoric, after receiving a nice billion-dollar slush-fund payoff in the Gang of Eight proposal.

Libertarians might say business interests should be allowed to seek out the most cost-effective labor they can find, and if American workers can’t compete with cheaper foreigners, it’s their problem. (Less callously, it might be said that inexpensive foreign labor is an input that should pressure American workers to lower their demands, the same way competition obliges any other market provider to cut prices or improve quality.)

The problem with that line of thinking is twofold: first, it’s the responsibility of the American government to look after the interests of Americans, and there is a middle ground between “protectionism” and the sort of flagrant abuse chronicled in Malkin’s book; and second, foreign labor is an input from outside the American system, imposing societal cost without commensurate obligation.  

Market competition is a contest between suppliers, yes, but it’s also a competition between suppliers and customers – a pressure cooker fueled by competing demands for high prices and profits, versus cheap goods with high quality. Our immigration system is a game rigged to provide ridiculously unfair advantages to the customers in this particular contest, the employers. The suppliers are “going out of business”… and dropping out of the workforce.

As Sold Out capably demonstrates, the original legislation behind these much-abused visa programs explicitly recognized these realities, nominally creating a system in which some of the world’s “best and brightest” would be encouraged to relocate to the United States – often temporarily, in response to highly specific needs, after every reasonable measure to fill those jobs with American workers had been exhausted. If H-1B and these other visa programs worked the way their drafters promised, they wouldn’t have much societal impact at all.

Instead, we have reached the point where “guest workers” have become a sizable percentage of key American workforces – 21 percent of software developers, for example. As requirements are evaded, caps are busted, and American worker protections become grim legislative jests, immigration at both high and low ends has become the classic example of what voters in both parties claim to hate most about corrupt government and special-interest politics.

Malkin’s book is fiery, and she’s angry at the corrupt enablers of these immigration scams, but she’s not hateful toward the immigrants themselves – indeed, her book represents one of the few serious media efforts to draw attention to the plight of abused foreign workers. Are we supposed to ignore such abuse because it’s politically inconvenient to the open-borders crowd… at the same time our left-wing politicians manufacture profitable crises about the alleged “exploitation” of nearly everyone else?  

There is so much emotional twaddle and ideological mush surrounding the immigration debate that anyone who speaks clearly and rationally about the issue comes off as a “firebrand.” It’s a serious public policy issue that affects Americans at every income level.  

Sold Out is a very serious book. If we want a serious debate before the primary season is done, we should ask for Michelle Malkin to be one of the moderators. A network seriously interested in ratings would unleash her on both parties, after giving every candidate a complimentary copy of Sold Out and a week to prepare themselves.


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