The issue clearly rests on an emotional fault line. Amar Veda, an official at the Immigrants Support Network, a coalition of people who hold H-1B permits, said foreign workers are already nervous about the prospect of being dismissed. Participants in the H-1B program typically must leave the country after six years if they are not sponsored by an employer for permanent residency. They must depart sooner if they lose their jobs and cannot find another.
"We are feeling terribly insecure," said Veda, a Connecticut technology worker who is in line for a green card that would grant him permanent residency status.
With the fear of deportation in mind, Veda said, how such employees are treated by their peers is a less important issue to many of them, although still troubling.
"These anti-immigrant [sentiments] are always there, no matter what," Veda said. "Maybe they are more vociferous now."
McQuown of Proteus certainly thinks so. Among the messages that cluttered his desktop was one that told him to stop "whining."
"Try hiring an American. Stop trying to pay slave shop wage. I hope your company flops very soon like a lot of the dot-coms," according to the e-mail, which he forwarded to a reporter.
"It's shortsighted, blind, zealot rage," McQuown said. "I've never gotten so much e-mail, and most of it ain't nice."
Professor Matloff said that in the years he has been bird-dogging the issue, he has rarely come across the kinds of racist sentiments that McQuown describes.
"There are roughly a million programmers in the U.S. and then a lot of ex-programmers who have been forced out of the field," Matloff said. "When you're talking about that many people, you're going to find some that don't have good attitudes towards other races and ethnicities."
He added: "I get just as many complaints from foreign-born programmers as U.S. natives."