SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Controversial new ads are popping up in the Bay Area denouncing a program that allows tech companies to bring in foreign workers, an issue that’s becoming a flashpoint in the immigration debate.

The signs went up over the weekend at the Civic Center BART station and the 19th Street Oakland BART station. In addition, there are 200 signs on the BART train cars.

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The signs read: “U.S tech workers, your companies think you are expensive, undeserving and expendable. Congress, fix H-1B laws so companies must seek and hire U.S. workers.”

It’s all to protest the current H-1B visa system that allows employers to bring in about 65,000 foreign workers every year.

Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “anti-immigrant,” paid $80,000 for the signs. PFIR Executive Director Kevin Lynn disputes that designation, and says his group simply wants regulations for a H-1B visa program that he says is broken.

“Going back to 1990, the idea was to attract, it was called the genius visa at the time,” said Lynn. “And when you see who is coming over, these folks are really quite ordinary in many ways. Twenty-six percent have only an associate’s degree.”

Lynn said employers are using the program to bring in foreign labor because it’s cheaper. 60 Minutes interviewed a group of Americans who were fired and replaced by H-1B visa workers.

“Never in my life did I imagine until this happened at Disney that I could be sitting at my desk and somebody would be flown in from another country … sit at my same desk and chair and take over what I was doing,” displaced worker Leo Perrero told 60 Minutes.

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“It was the most humiliating and demoralizing thing I’ve ever gone through in my life.”

Flynn’s group wants new laws making it harder for employers to bring in workers from other countries. He said the problem is that Republicans and Democrats both like the current system.

“One side responds to the chambers of commerce and their need for a highly exploitable labor force. And the other side responds to the ethnic lobbies that want the doors held open for more of their own, in the hopes of building the ranks of a certain political party,” said Lynn.

One other group that likes the visas: tech companies. When the president suspended a program to expedite the visas, Silicon Valley felt attacked

Russell Hancock, President & CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley said in 2017: “Silicon Valley is mostly people who are not from Silicon Valley. They’re from other parts of the world. 50 percent of our population is coming from some other place in the workforce so when you shut that down you shut down Silicon Valley.”

Lynn said when the new signs went up, his phone went off. “At least 10 people reach out to me today to tell their stories of how they have been dislocated by workers who have been brought in,” said Lynn.

The signs will stay up until April 1, that’s the day when applications for the H-1B visas begin.

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