Silicon Valley Billionaires Find Immigration Reform a Dilemma

Friday, 28 Mar 2014 02:37 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Silicon Valley executives are finding that getting comprehensive immigration reform  through a divided U.S. Congress is more difficult and costly than they expected.

Nearly a year ago, Facebook Inc. founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined forces with lobbyist Joe Green to co-found FWD.us, a pro-immigration advocacy super PAC that has been lobbying lawmakers to reform immigration standards, particularly those that remove highly skilled foreigners from the United States, Fox Business reported.

The other founding members of FWD. us sound like a "who's who" of Silicon Valley, including Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox; LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; Jim Breyer of Accel Partners; and Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and Facebook's founding president.

In addition, the effort is getting major financial support from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; IAD/Interactive's Barry Diller; AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Zuckerberg himself has contributed as much as $20 million to the effort.

Yet, immigration reform is not moving forward, and Green says many in the tech world find Washington "somewhere between confusing and disgusting" as the fight goes on.

Green says that immigration is a real issue in California, where Silicon Valley thrives. He said that he grew up in Los Angeles and went to a school where nearly half the students were Latinos, and did not understand when a friend's parents were deported.

He told Fox he remembers thinking "this doesn’t happen in America. This isn’t the Soviet
Union. Peoples' parents don’t disappear in the middle of the night.”

But aside from the social issues, the tech industry sees immigrants as a crucial labor source, and has been pushing Congress for years on a visa reform to attract and keep more foreign workers.

But Green said he knows the "politics are difficult" even though there is an overwhelming support for immigration reform.

Eighty percent of Americans support reform, maintained Green, while the "20 percent of Americans who are anti-immigration are really, really loud about it. You have a lot of Republicans in gerrymandered districts that are 90 percent white." he said. Further, he noted, many congressional Democrats oppose reform because they worry about losing their red district votes.

The Senate voted 68-32 last year to support immigration reform, the bill is stalled in the House of Representatives, where Republicans want a more divided approach to immigration. House Speaker John Boehner has said that he has doubts the bill can pass as long as President Barack Obama is in office.

FWD.us, meanwhile, has been playing on both sides of the table by funding candidates who support immigration. It has financed Americans for a Conservative Direction, which supports Republicans who support immigration reform, and the Council for American Job Growth, which donates to Democrat who support reform.

And the groups aren't afraid to spend their backers' money. Last year, between April and June, Americans for Conservative Direction spent $4.16 million on cable, radio and TV advertising, or more than combined by any other group for or against immigration reform.

Earlier this month, the Council for American Job growth debuted a television ad to intensify pressure on House Republican leaders to act this year on immigration.

The council is spending nearly a $500,000 on that ad alone, and planned to run it in all 50 states for about two weeks.

Green said he believes there is a good chance the House will move on immigration when the midterm primaries are over.

“Every day this doesn’t happen there is a real human and economic cost,” he said.

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