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The Texas woman on fire about H-1B visa use

Patrick Thibodeau | April 28, 2016
Jennifer’s Wedel’s 2012 question to President Obama may have marked a turning point in the H-1B debate.

The use of H-1B visas has emerged as a significant issue in this presidential contest. That might be due, in part, to a Fort Worth, Texas, woman, Jennifer Wedel.

In 2012, Wedel, the wife of an unemployed semiconductor engineer who earned a patent, was selected by Google out of thousands of requests to ask President Barack Obama a question during an online town hall.

Wedel's husband, Darin Wedel, was laid off from Texas Instruments in 2009. Ms. Wedel believed H-1B visa use played a role in the layoff and in creating a difficult job market.

Wedel didn't show any anger when she asked Obama this question:

"Why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1b visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?" (The video is on YouTube. Wedel was the first to ask a question. There were only five people picked to ask questions in that online town hall.)

Obama responded, in part: "The H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say that cannot find somebody in that particular field."

This was the first time Obama had spoken at any length about the limits of the H-1B visa. In a subsequent phone interview, Wedel said she believes her opportunity to ask that question has left her with a responsibility.

"I have no idea why I was given this opportunity, but I was," said Wedel. Her responsibility is to inform people about the use of the visa, she explained.

"If I just sit on that information, then what kind of American does that make me?" said Wedel. "That doesn't make me a good American at all."

Wedel is now working with activists, in an ongoing effort to increase the H-1B visa's visibility.

Darin Wedel got a new job in 2012 and works today as a senior quality engineer in the medical industry. Obama offered, during the town hall, to review his resume and help him. But Wedel said the offer was a dodge to deflect the topic away from the H-1B issue. The White House offered very little help, she said.

Jennifer Wedel credits Donald Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, for giving the H-1B issue visibility in the election. But Wedel is undecided about whom to support for president.

Wedel has reservations about Trump over broader issues and sees him as a little reckless with the things he says. And while she initially supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is also seeking the nomination, she's concerned about his corporate connections.

Wedel describes herself as a "conservative" and not a Republican, because she feels the party itself is too aligned with corporate interests.


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