Immigration Activists Stage Virtual March for Immigration Reform

In the last major push for immigration reform, there were rallies and street marches, complete with songs and speeches, noisemakers and signs held high. For all the energy that went into these, none of it was enough to change the final result. Now a new breed of tech-savvy activists is trying a different tack, launching a social media blitz that they’ve dubbed the “virtual march for immigration reform.”

Unlike the demonstrators in 2006 and 2007, these are not grassroots activists, but a coalition of business luminaries like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and CEO of Revolution; Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association; and Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer at Cisco Systems. Among the institutional supporters: the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the CEO Council for Growth, the NY Tech Meetup, and other heavy hitters from the world of technology and venture capital.

The mission? According to their website,

“To push for smart immigration reform to attract and keep the best and brightest to fuel innovation and American jobs… We march to ensure that the broad immigration bills being considered in Congress include provisions to boost innovation and entrepreneurship, and we march to seize the moment and get immigration reform passed.”

The site hopes to attract a mass audience in the hundreds of thousands that will use Twitter, Facebook, Thunderclap, and other social media to bombard Washington lawmakers with messages in support of tech-friendly CIR. They make a compelling case. Among their talking points:

  • Even if every American advanced degree STEM graduate gets a job, the U.S. will face 200,000 unfilled advanced-degree STEM jobs by 2018.
  • More than 1/4 of tech firms report difficulty hiring, and the number of Americans studying STEM grows by less than 1% per year.
  • Immigrants are more than twice as likely as the native born to start a business.
  • Immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in revenue for the economy in 2011.
  • Other countries are reforming their immigration laws to recruit the entrepreneurs and engineers we are turning away.
  • Chile offers $40,000 to entrepreneurs who start their businesses there. We don’t even offer them a visa.
  • Every 100 immigrants who earn advanced degrees in the U.S. and then stay to work in technical fields create 262 jobs for American workers.

It seems unlikely that virtual marches will ever replace street demonstrations and public rallies in the activist’s toolkit; when people come together by the thousands, all fired up about immigration reform – or any other issue – it’s hard not to pay attention. But social media have opened up a new public sphere, just as real as the National Mall, and politicians ignore it at their peril. Given the amount of time we spend in the digital world these days, it’s hard to ignore a tidal wave of virtual support. We hope this movement will catch on!

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