Becoming American: Alum Books Podcast

by Joe McGonegal on July 7, 2014 · 36 comments

in Authors, Economics, Podcast, Podcast

Fariborz Ghadar ’68, SM ’70 has spent much of his life on the road.

On a consulting call a few years back, Ghadar struck up conversation on an airplane with a young man named Mohammed who was seated next to him. ghadar

“Mohammed said he was getting his PhD in oil fracking,” Ghadar recalls. “I said, ‘You must be in great demand.’ He said ‘Yes, but I’m going to end up going to Australia.’ I asked him why he wasn’t staying here. ‘Well they can’t get me an H-1B visa,’ he said. This is an industry that’s making us self-sufficient in gas and oil, and here’s a critical person getting a PhD in this area. And our industries can’t keep him here?”

That encounter inspired a new book, Becoming American: Why Immigration Is Good for Our Nation’s Future. Hear Ghadar discuss the book in this Alumni Books Podcast.

An author of 14 books, Ghadar is founding director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University and Distinguished Scholar and Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. Until this book, he says, he had never addressed immigration, a topic that has long concerned him. And the timing of its publication this spring couldn’t be better, he says. For a federal government stalled on immigration reform, the book offers several contemporary stories of immigrants overcoming the hurdles and misconceptions about them to find success in America.

Ghadar begins by debunking myths about immigration and offering research and data in their place: immigrants, as a percentage of the U.S. population, are not at an all-time high; 42 percent of all current Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants; and spending by immigrants and their families will surpass $2 trillion this year.

The book ends with a chapter entitled “Blueprints for Policymakers” at a time when Ghadar believes Congress needs one most. “The political system has come to a stall,” he says. “You can argue the statistics and the facts and show them what is going on, but people are getting scared and paranoid. It’s going to take a while for reality to come back in.”

Fariborz Ghadar '68, SM '70.

Fariborz Ghadar ’68, SM ’70.

Ghadar also interlaces memoir into his argument. He tells his family’s story of emigrating from and back to Iran both before and after college. His father, the head of its intelligence agency, resigned just before the Shah was toppled, and Ghadar, then a minister of exports, also foresaw bleak times for his native land.

“Like many other immigrants before and after me, I had become aerodynamic,” Ghadar writes. “Shaped by the stronger than normal forces I had encountered in my lifetime as an immigrant. I worked hard not to be knocked over by these forces, which often led to sacrifices.”

Listen to the complete podcast interview here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hirth July 18, 2014 at 1:22 am

Our immigration system is broken. Instead of selecting and vetting who will be allowed to come into the USA, we run a cruel lottery – those who can survive the trek to our southern border by pure grit are allowed in. Those with college degrees, special skills, bravery in aiding US troop in foreign wars are not allowed in.

Congress authorized 80,000 special visas for Iranians and Afghans who served with US troops in combat. Only 5,000 of them have been given to these brave individuals.


George Stimmel July 18, 2014 at 3:21 am

I’m sorry but I don’t see the horror in this story.

A foreign student comes to MIT and gets his PHD and now must find a job outside the US. He’s lucky we couldn’t require him to return to his own country and work there to improve his home country. I always thought that was the justification for student visas.

H-1B is one of the most abused programs we have because what very few teeth it has are very well muzzled. It is most often used to get very pricey skills cheap with residence in the US.

My only experience with H-1B personnel was with 2 foreign combat systems’ test pilots whose skill set included performance in maneuvers which would have gotten a USAF pilot grounded (with the possible exception of Tow-Target pilots), grass stains on the propeller or a wingtip.

That’s what H-1b is for, not hiring domestically educated PHDs for the price of SBs+residencies. The native born PHD who already has residency is competing against a foreign PHD who may not even need a salary, just the residency.

Personnel departments are used to prevent program managers from paying engineers according to their needs and the engineers’ skills in the area of those needs. The department knows what it gets from the customers for engineering hours and strives to drive the profits up at the expense of the engineers.

When localized subcontractors of NASA were getting near to starting a price war for each others’ good talent, NASA declared a 10% raise maximum for inter-subcontracter hiring because they would have to pay for it. Of course that had not restraining effect on NASA drastically raising the payscales of their government employees.


Nick Kenda July 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm

George, so you would boot the MIT student back to his home country? Do you realize what this means for the US economy if such policies were really applied on a broad scale? The US economy will collapse. The pre-university US educational system is dumbed down and is simply not producing enough talent to fulfill the jobs of tomorrow. Right now, US is still doing fine because of the massive influx of highly-skilled foreigners. Close that pipe and who will do those jobs? There simply aren’t enough of domestic engineers to fill those jobs. Yes, H1B needs revisions, yes, it is abused too often — but to require of foreign students to return home after being trained in US will bankrupt this economy.


MarkPClassOf84 July 24, 2014 at 11:35 am

There are 5 million unemployed STEM workers in the USA – the only ‘shortage’ is of workers willing to accept Third World wages.


George Stimmel July 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Yes I would. That was the agreement for being allowed to get an education here. They may have even been here on a foreign scholarship.


MIT Alumna July 18, 2014 at 3:37 am

Ghadar’s facile exploration of US immigration presents its own set of myths. In great numbers, American professionals have endured the unconscionable task of training their own H-1B replacements; this renders the claim that Americans are not filling holes in the economy as nothing short of mythical. Contradictions to his other arguments are just as easily discoverable. Curiously, the author isolates the percentage-of-foreign-born from 2010 and asserts that it is not an all time high. You would have to exclude 200 years of historical data except forty years from 1860–1900 to make that an accurate assertion. Otherwise, immigration is the highest in two centuries and surging at a record pace. But the surge in immigration is hardly as injurious as the worn-out offering that Americans think all immigration is dangerous. It’s wildly disingenuous to tout immigration as the overlooked gold field while crediting that conclusion as studious and educated. The immigration problem in this country is nuanced; and it is a problem indeed. As a substantial contributor to illegal immigration, U.S. visa programs, H-1B included, need a decisive overhaul towards reduction, not expansion. It’s false and insulting to suggest that America is missing out unless she admits more immigrants. At best, immigration is the goose with one golden egg–a double-edged sword–hardly an economic magic wand. A studied examination of immigration would necessarily include street-side conversations with residents of Chicago, Baltimore, Miami, and with parents in the school drop-off lane in Phoenix and Houston because there’s much to learn about immigration from every facet of American culture.


Nick Kenda July 20, 2014 at 6:32 pm

H1B responsible for illegal immigration? Totally baseless claim, and misleading as well. American professionals training their H1B replacements? This is a myth — if you have the evidence of abuse, send it to USCIS.


MIT Alumna July 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Anyone interested in a reality check about the abuse of the H-1B program can investigate the ‘Beasley v. Cognizant’ lawsuit– illegal firings of American workers. Also checkout the now famous Computerworld article and followup re: Tech workers forced to train their H1B Replacements. I highly recommend these two items because they cite specific cases while pointing to a broader view of the destructive nature of H-1B abuse. Its pure fallacy that American workers are less talented, less willing, or fewer in number, nor will the U.S. economy collapse without foreign born workers. Frankly, it’s the other way around.

Estimates are that 40% – 50% of illegal immigrant workers are VISA overstays–that includes H1B overstays. Roughly 50% of the soaring illegal immigration problem is caused by the abuse of visa permits which means that across the board, U.S. visas are abused. Data from the BLS has borne out that since 2000, all of the net gain in the number of job has gone to immigrants. If the U.S. economy is largely benefiting foreign workers while American workers suffer, that’s not “doing fine,” that’s failure. The U.S visa program needs to be trimmed not expanded.


George Stimmel July 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Before we trim it or expand it we ought to really try to enforce it. If enforcing it isn’t working, put more and sharper teeth into it, make the cost of doing the business prohibitive for both the visa abuser and his/her enabler/employer.

I would suggest deportation and a permanent denial of any future entry for the abuser and permanent denial of H-1b workers and a stiff fine on the enabler/employer.

The stiff fine would be 10 years salary/remuneration for each year, or fraction thereof, of the abuser’s association with the enabler at the rate of a permanent resident/citizen with all the required qualifications and experience(s). If it takes more than one resident/citizen to meet those qualifications and experiences then the fine will be based on the sum of their salaries.


Socialist Worker July 24, 2014 at 8:39 pm

The obvious idea here is to place the immigrant in chains dependent on a single employer along with a fig leaf of increased fines and a get tough policy. What this proposal means is use of the police force to solve problems created due to the failures of capitalism on a world scale.

Twenty million immigrants with out proper working papers are in the United States today. ICE (immigration and customs enforcement) is already the largest federal police agency. Congress though it could enact a tough immigration bill making workers without papers criminals and the result was a massive strike and protest on May day by immigrants across the country. A frightened Congress backed off and the current liberal President Barak Obama has become the king of deportations.

He is now pleading with parents in Central America to keep there children home. A crisis rooted in the Monroe Doctrine and the wars necessary to save oligarchs and capitalist dictators throughout Latin America. All the propaganda and lies used to defend US policy going back to the Reagan era has now boomeranged in Central America.

The children are being kept in military bases around the country. Already pictures of children behind chain link fence are circulating across the globe. They came here for refuge and what do they find? Barracks housing behind a chain link fence.

Ronald Chu July 18, 2014 at 4:02 am

I am not against immigrants coming to the US in legal ways. Criticisms are against illegal immigration, which is not a myth. The current biggest crisis is illegal immigrants staying here or planning to come here in anticipation of an asylum of some sort.


Socialist Worker July 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I can understand why his father left. After all head of the Shah’s secret police torture regime installed by the US in 1953 coup would not make him very popular during the n 1979 revolution.

Immigration law is complex so those with money and skills are favored over the average worker or young person. The H1B visa is a way for companies to reduce the cost of skilled labor including engineers and programmers.

The US has created the immigration crisis by supporting various tyrants and dictators in Latin America. It is the human rights crisis in Central America that is driving the journey north created by US Imperialism. Its only natural that people send their loved ones north to escape dictators, drug and death squads for all the ‘human rights’ promised by Washington on Radio Marti and Voice of America.

Remember that poem engraved upon the statue of liberty. “…. Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

So what’s next? Building a big wall with boarder guards and removal of the poem from the Statue of Liberty? Maybe the should take down the statue and send it back to France or another country that might be more appreciative.


Paul Hirth July 18, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Our 30 year “war on drugs” has left us with zero reduction is taking of drugs by Americans plus drug cartels that are stronger than the governments in Mexico and Central America.

Just like Prohibition created Al Capone and his associates in the 1920’s.


Socialist Worker July 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

That’s another good point. The drug crisis began as the Vietnam war ended. US troops alienated by a war that required them to act as ground based colonial police force tuned to drugs as an escape.

Once Nixon realized that drug use was coming home with returning troops he ordered that all personal must be drug free before they could return home. He then ordered a war on drugs. The basic problem with that is that a police force can’t solve a public health problem.


MarkPClassOf84 July 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm

The article and the comments just go to show once again that faculty are liberal while skilled people who have to work for a living are conservative.


Socialist Worker July 24, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Kind of a small sample from which to draw such a wide ranging conclusion.

If I were to ask Lenin about liberals and conservatives he would tell me that they are different sides of the same coin. The conservative looks to the past as away to save himself from the future while the liberal advises the conservative that he must reform to in order to save himself from the future. Neither ideology is revolutionary and both discount the ability of the working class to take control of the workplace, set up its own state and abolish wage labor.


George Narcavge July 19, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Yes, we should allow more educated immigrants into our country if they would like to come. No , we should not be an open door to the world. The current Administration program of encouraging the protected transport of Central American people across Mexico into the US to be relocated anywhere in the US is a recipe for disaster. It not only betrays the trust of US citizens, it makes a mockery of honest immigrants who apply under the immigration rules of our country.


Socialist Worker July 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Immigrants with money can enter the US with capital and a business plan that will create ‘American Jobs’. If the business then fails like a very large number of business’ and they have then lost their capital do they then lose their green card?

All these various schemes to allow immigrants in to temporally fill skilled jobs are in place to keep down the price of skilled labor. All the programs to bring in immigrants to fill low paid jobs in agriculture, meatpacking and other union free industries purpose is to keep down wages.

So what we see in immigration is that the employers want to have a work force that they can use and abuse use today and send home tomorrow. They are neither for nor against immigration but what they are for is profits. They don’t want immigrants taking advantage of unemployment insurance and education here but instead they want to foist those costs upon the developing countries where they have had some success in imposing austerity and draining super profits from them.

At the same time they are moving capital to the underdeveloped world to take advantage of cheaper labor. In this process they have created the largest mass migration in human history. That of the Chinese peasantry from the villages to becoming workers in the big cities.

The idea that their are good legal immigrants and bad illegal immigrants is nonsense. What the employers and their government is control over all immigrants as if they were somehow less human than the rest of us.


Socialist Worker July 26, 2014 at 5:51 am

I’m not a lawyer or professor nor to I have my MIT degree or any other degree.

Congress wrote a law allowing refuges from the Central America countries to have a hearing before an immigration judge. It was just another look good on paper laws. Congressmen could pat themselves on the back and talk about the greatness and kindness of America. Voice of America and Radio Marti could use this for more lies and propaganda. Naturally they never expected to have so many refuges come here.

Apparently these children are swimming across the Rio Grande and surrendering to ICE as soon as they cross. So even if tomorrow Congress were to change the law and try to apply it retroactively wouldn’t that fall under the Constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws?

Keeping children locked up on military bases is not going to win any brownie points at the United Nations. We all know how popular the Guantanamo Bay torture base is.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Raul Castro calls up Obama and asks if he wants Cuban volunteer doctors and teachers to help these children receive an education and health care while in the United States.


SVC August 1, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I find surprising that many commenters are against naturalizing intelligent, productive, foreign-born professionals or future professionals. You are basically importing the best from another country and thus improving your population — why would you want them to leave? Why would you not want them to be Americans? It sounds like petty tribalism to argue on location of birth.

I wasn’t born in the US. My parents came over after graduate school to work as professionals in a university, on a visa. They are now thoroughly middle-class, citizens, have held a number of technical jobs, and have paid a good amount in taxes. I went through the American public school system and then to MIT. Neither my parents nor I would ever want to go back to the “home” country. Why would you not want people like us in the US? How are we any less American than someone born inside the borders? If anything, we have a richer life experience to offer.


George Stimmel August 1, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I need more data to reply. What were the terms and type of your parents’ visa? And did they violate any of the prohibitions associated with that visa?

The case under discussion is of a scholar on a Student Visa wanting permanent residence after his formal schooling is complete. It’s not that we don’t want that country’s best to come here, it’s that that country probably needs him a lot more than we do and their loss would be considerably more than our gain.


Socialist Worker August 5, 2014 at 3:37 am

I need more data. So who are you? Remember the movie Casablanca where the Nazi’s check your papers. That is why we oppose any law that criminalizes workers with out papers or institutes check points which have been put into place on the southern boarder now and allow checkpoints as far as 100 miles from any immigration point that includes not just the land boarders but international airports and the ocean dry land boundary. In order for the Nazi’s to murder the Jews the began by taking their legal rights away first. They became an illegal people. Oh lets not forget the famous quote ’round up the usual suspects.’


George Stimmel August 5, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I also remember Checkpoint Charlie, with machines at the ready, many years after Casablanca where papers were required. Those machine guns were on the Socialist side of the checkpoint primarily to keep your fellow socialist workers inside your socialist paradise.


Socialist Worker August 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm

As if the pentagon had no plans or troops and tanks in Germany should war break out in Europe.

And the profit Reagan came forth and said, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” and so it was good and the lord did make come true. However the new immigrants became western Europe’s problem along with those from its former colonies. They too have built walls such as the wall between Morocco and Spain and rely on sea borders to keep out migrants.

Now the US is also building a large wall along its southern boarder to keep out its backyard policy failure.

However the citizens of Cuba are offered an automatic green card should they be able to cross the Straits of Florida or any where else and sign a statement saying they left because of political repression.

If they were to offer the Mexican people the same deal because they were fleeing from drug cartels the thousands upon thousands would flee.

I have read lots of books and articles about socialism and I have yet to read a single one referring to a socialist paradise outside of those written by opponents of socialism.

MarkPClassOf84 August 1, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Perhaps you missed this comment: “There are 5 million unemployed STEM workers in the USA”.


SVC August 2, 2014 at 11:25 am

@George, I don’t remember the terms, since I was pretty young at the time, but I know they didn’t violate anything. I don’t like your argument for sending people back because “their country’s loss would be considerably more than our gain”. That assumes you not only know the relative losses/gains, but are also in a position to make that call for individuals and for other countries.

@MarkPClassOf84, following your comment, I did quite a bit of online research. I can’t find clear data to support what you say, and I am also horrified at how messy the classifications seem to be. Several sources bemoan the unemployment rate among “STEM professionals” (I’m not even sure what that means at this point — how can people have STEM skills without training beyond high school?), but then list those unemployment rates on the order of 1-3%, which is an extremely low level of unemployment. It looks to me like that could even be accounted for by frictional unemployment, which is something you /want/ in your economy. Some say that those rates are higher than what they have been historically, which to me sounds like maybe we’re responding to the need for such professionals and these fields are slowly becoming more “normal” occupations.

This also has nothing to do with the quality of professionals involved, which is much more important for future US tech advances than the sheer number of people ostensibly trained in tech fields. Why should we protect mediocrity? If we believe firms/universities should and do look for the best, and firms with good workers improve the state of the US economy, then why artificially narrow the applicant pool? And if a firm finds that immigrants from Country A tend to be more proficient engineers than others, then preventing those people from remaining in the US just invites the firm to hire those same people while they live and pay taxes in Country A.


MarkPClassOf84 August 4, 2014 at 3:35 pm

The figure I cited may include underemployed STEM-trained workers; here’s a link to an exhaustively referenced study that concludes, ” the nation is producing more than enough quality workers in scientific and engineering fields”: As for firms “looking for the best”: in today’s economy of maximizing the current quarter’s profits, and with entire law practices devoted to helping employers skirt H1-B’s prevailing-salary requirements, it’s likelier that they’re merely looking for the cheapest. Finally, for a nation to be more concerned about the employment of its citizens than of non-citizens is “artificial” only in a libertarian Utopia.


SVC August 5, 2014 at 10:48 am

Still don’t see why making non-citizens into citizens is a bad thing.


MarkPClassOf84 August 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm

It’s a bad thing when it depresses salaries for citizens.

Socialist Worker August 5, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Wage depression is the result of competition between workers. It is the employers who actually lower the wages not immigrants. However turning immigrants into a pariah (illegal) class of workers will do nothing but further lower the wages of all workers.

Only by joining unions can workers have the power to raise wages. That is why immigration is a life and death question for the labor movement. Only a fool believes that the employers can regulate themselves out of they profits they make from immigration legal or otherwise.


George Stimmel August 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Employers don’t lower wages, they only lower their cost of labor by hiring the competing worker from whom they will get the most bang for their bucks. If a worker gets twice the minimum wage for doing his job and another worker, an alien, will take the minimum wage for doing that same job because he can stay in this country if he’s working, the employer will choose the alien. If wages are depressed this way it is the government’s immigration policy, or lack thereof, that is depressing wages.

In the last half century unions have more often preyed on their members than protected them, much less made them prosperous.

MarkPClassOf84 August 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm

When circumstance are such that immigrant labor doesn’t depress salaries of citizen labor, I’ll be able to support the former. Considering how corporate America treats professionals in its employ, I’d give a full hearing to any union organizer.

Socialist Worker August 2, 2014 at 6:40 am

Mr. Obama tear down that fence.


Socialist Worker August 5, 2014 at 4:29 am

I don’t understand how they are illegal immigrant children if their current immigration status is to be determined at a future time. So for now it seems to me they are legal immigrants.

In most deportation cases the person accused of violating immigration laws is facing a civil not a criminal charge. Yet they are often held in jails operated by local or state authorities reserved for those who can’t make bail in criminal cases and those doing less than a years time after convictions on criminal charges.

In some instances whole families are held in federal immigration jails waiting for the legal systems adjudication. Would you stay in an immigration jail if you thought there was no chance of being allowed to stay?

How about the racist talk of anchor babies. Yet every year US citizens adopt children in orphanages from European countries because they are Caucasian. Yet you would deny Latin American children and adults that same right. I noticed that you specifically named children from Mexico and Honduras, ect. Why don’t you just come out a say your a racist instead of hiding behind the illegal immigration term.

When you walk down the street Europeans are automatic seen as Americans but dark colored skin people and people of a mixed racial content are not no matter how many generations they have been here or their immigration status they are illegals. If you had your way we would still have segregation. The real reason you don’t want Latin American children here is that you don’t want race mixing because underneath all this immigration fear is a ‘Keep America White’ movement.


Paul Hirth July 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I hoped that we would keep the illegal immigrant children in custody until they can be sent home. Instead it appears that we are releasing them to the custody of other (possibly illegal immigrant) adults and claim they will appear in a deportation court hearing in a couple years. Congress should change the law to allow children from Mexico, Honduras, etc. to be processed and returned to their home countries in the same way. Yet the Republicans have made no move to do so and I would be amazed to see members of the President’s own party propose something as radical as treating the flood of Central American children in the same manner as we are now treating Mexican illegal immigrant children.


George Stimmel August 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Have you ever asked yourself ‘Why do all those people in the socialist workers’ paradise are so willing to risk their lives to get out of it?’


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