Conservative provocateur Steve Bannon recently took jabs at immigrants who come to America on H-1B visas, the majority of whom are of Asian descent.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, which aired on CNN on Friday, the former White House chief strategist known for his hardline stance on immigration said that if “you’re from Asia and you’re here, second-generation, you’re [an] American citizen, that’s absolutely no problem.”
But he said he felt differently about those who are in the U.S. via the visa, which allows employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations.
“These HB-1 (sic) visas where you come here... basically to take the jobs of American citizens is just not acceptable. And that’s not racist,” Bannon said. “The central beating heart of this is that Hispanics and blacks have to get into the high valuated tech jobs; we’re never going to do that as long as they have unfair competition.”
Zakaria mentioned remarks by Bannon last year in which he said that “two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia,” and that the U.S. “is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
Pressed to explain his views, the former aide to President Donald Trump said he was espousing “economic nationalism,” which he claimed has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, religion or gender, but concerns American citizenship.
The overwhelming majority of H-1B visas go to immigrants from Asia, specifically India and China. Those who qualify for them have a bachelor’s degree or higher and work in fields that require highly specialized knowledge.
John C. Yang, executive director of Washington-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told HuffPost that Bannon’s comments on Asian immigrants stemmed from a collection of stereotypes and misconceptions, particularly the model minority myth ― the belief that all Asians are better off and better educated than other minorities.
Yang said the comments also seek to pit races and ethnic groups against one another.
“I think what Mr. Bannon is clearly trying to do is race-bait. He is trying to drive a wedge between races,” he said. “What he’s really doing is trying to limit opportunities for all minorities.”
Yang said that Bannon, as a media figure and political operative, has “never demonstrated any sympathy for any minorities or any immigrants.”
During Bannon’s time as the executive chairman at Breitbart News, the outlet published alarmist articles about black Americans. The news organization has also been frequently accused of aligning with white nationalist groups.
Yang speculated that Bannon’s primary objective is to solicit support from black and Latino communities for his political positions and candidates who tout his policies.
“He’s just trying to draw a wedge and he’s hoping that somehow that African Americans and Hispanic Americans will read his quote and find alliance with him rather than with all the minorities,” Yang said.
He added: “If he really believed that he wanted to get more opportunities for minorities... then he should be talking about increasing educational opportunities for minorities. He should not be talking about how one race is supposedly taking from another race. That’s just not the reality here.”
A study from the New American Economy showed that caps on the H-1B visa lottery system actually disproportionately hurt U.S.-born tech workers, especially those without bachelors degrees. The report found that less-educated tech employees often occupy positions that support the higher-skilled workers who are often H-1B recipients.
In metropolitan areas, the high volume of application denials in the 2007 and 2008 visa lotteries resulted in a lack of almost 188,600 computer-related jobs for U.S.-born workers who didn’t have college degrees, the study found.
Bannon’s assertion about Asians dominating CEO posts in Silicon Valley also has been disproved time after time. A study by the Ascend Foundation found that white men and women were about 154% more likely to have an executive position in the region at its large companies compared with their Asian counterparts.
“People have to do their research and make sure they have the facts rather than believe these statements that Mr. Bannon and others are putting out,” Yang said. “His statements are not the reality.”