Zuckerberg Group Broadens Immigration Reform Lobbying Efforts

Earlier this year, we noted with interest that Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, had waded into the immigration debate by starting his own lobbying group, FWD.us, to push for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). [See Mark Zuckerberg: Immigration Activist, MurthyBlog, 05.Apr.2013.] He did so tentatively, at first, and not without ruffling the feathers of liberal immigration activists with some controversial TV spots that were designed to curry favor with GOP members, whose support for CIR is essential. [See Silicon Valley Steps Up Role in Immigration Debate, by Carla Marinucci, San Francisco Chronicle, 26.Jul.2013.]

In the intervening months, Zuckerberg and his lobbying group have become more sure-footed and politically savvy. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, Zuckerberg is still aggressively promoting CIR, but he’s no longer just talking about the needs of Silicon Valley, significant though they are. He’s taking a “big-tent” approach to immigration reform, one that emphasizes the comprehensive part – shorthand for providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States.

On August 5th, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Zuckerberg would appear at the West Coast premiere of a documentary about unauthorized immigrants, in an apparent attempt to widen his group’s circle of concern. According to the Chronicle, the film was written and directed by immigrant activist and erstwhile Washington Post reporter, Jose Antonio Vargas. As the Chronicle notes, “uniting Zuckerberg and Vargas at the same event signals Silicon Valley players are stepping up their push for overhauling immigration.”

Meanwhile, the co-founder and former CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason – another member of the FWD.us coalition – was stumping recently in Chicago for CIR, pressing a more traditional concern of the tech industry: the need to expand the H1B visa program. [See Andrew Mason Talks Immigration Reform at Zuckerberg Forum in Chicago, by Wailin Wang, Chicago Tribune, 27.Jul.2013.] According to the Tribune, “FWD.us is pushing for an expansion in the H1B program,” and its Chicago immigration forum gave local entrepreneurs an opportunity to compare notes on the difficulties of attracting and retaining world-class tech talent, given the current restrictions on H1B visas.

Echoing a complaint heard frequently in the high-tech sector, Mason told the gathering, as the Tribune reports: “We would’ve loved to have hired engineers a lot faster, but we just couldn’t find enough high-quality engineers, and actually that was in many ways our bottleneck to innovate faster, to deliver more functionality to our customers.”

According to MIT Technology Review, Zuckerberg’s group is seeking to meet these concerns by advocating a hike in the number of available H1B visas, the creation of a special startup visa for entrepreneurially minded immigrants who can raise capital from American investors, and “a simpler track for foreign science graduates to win residency.” [See Silicon Valley Fights for Immigrant Talent, by Jessica Leber, MIT Technology Review, 26.Jul.2013.] That much could be expected from a tech-industry Goliath like Mark Zuckerberg. What’s really interesting is that Zuckerberg and FWD.us are now making common cause with a broader coalition of CIR supporters. This is something of a breakthrough, but it shouldn’t be a big surprise when immigration reform advocates “friend” each other: the real challenge is finding friends among the GOP House members who still oppose CIR.

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