Garvin, contributing editor of Reason, writes that some 15,000 Asian immigrants are employed in Silicon Valley, roughly a quarter of the work force, and the phenomenon is not limited to California. A quarter of the researchers at IBM's facility in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., are Asians, and at AT&T's Bell Labs in New Jersey, 40 percent of the researchers in the Communications Sciences Wing were born outside the United States.
`Immigrants bring with them high-tech expertise and the knowledge of the way businesses organize and market themselves in other parts of the world,` says Garvin. `But the recent battle against illegal immigrants threatens to stem the tide of legal immigrants as well.`
According to Garvin, Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming has promised to introduce a bill slashing the number of legal immigrants by 25 percent. Last year a House bill that would cut the number of legal immigrants by 65 percent immediately and 85 percent in the long run attracted 73 co-sponsors from both parties.
George Gilder, who frequently writes about international competition and the information superhighway, worries about the effect of such legislation on the high-tech industry. `At every important high-tech company in America, the crucial players, half of them, are immigrants,` says Gilder. `You exclude immigrants from our high-tech industries and what you get is Europe, where they have no important computer or semiconductor company now after 20 years of focusing on information technologies.`
Nathan Rosenberg, a Stanford economist who studies the history of technology, agrees. `A very large fraction of foreigners who come to America to study and take advanced degrees in engineering and science stay here,` says Rosenberg. `It seems to me that the American high-tech industry will suffer, will suffer tremendously, if these anti-immigration measures go into effect.`
The article points to numerous examples of immigrants who have fundamentally changed the industry and technology. Andy Grove, CEO of semiconductor giant Intel, is a Hungarian immigrant who fled Soviet tanks 12 years before joining Intel at age 31. Last year, Intel introduced the state-of-the-art Pentium microprocessor. The project is managed by Vinod Dham of India, and one of the chip's two principal architects is another Indian, Avtar Saini.
`Once we've gotten rid of the immigrants, who is going to pick the lettuce and tomatoes,` asks Garvin. `Moreover, if the federal government imposes drastic cuts in the number of legal immigrants, who is going to design the computers?`
Reason magazine is a leading social and political commentary magazine based in Los Angeles. For over a quarter of a century, Reason magazine has gone beyond Beltway politics, challenged conventional wisdom, and offered a refreshing alternative to Washington-based opinion. Reason is published by the Reason Foundation, a national public-policy research organization.
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