Zuckerberg forms Silicon Valley super PAC to take on immigration

Mark Zuckerberg's super PAC, called FWD.us, is pushing for immigration reform and a series of other issues affecting the technology industry in the United States. However, immigration advocates question how much FWD.us will help.

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    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new super PAC led by the biggest names of Silicon Valley called FWD.us. These technology leaders aim to push for immigration reform, technology in schools, and other issues affecting the technology industry.
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Mark Zuckerberg seems to be crossing into the political arena with FWD.us, a super PAC led by him and Silicon Valley’s leading entrepreneurs.

The Facebook founder and CEO announced the creation of the super PAC on Wednesday in an op-ed for the Washington Post. The Super PAC will advocate bipartisan policies to build what he calls the “knowledge economy” in the United States.

These policies, which range from immigration reform to improving technology in schools, are key to creating more jobs, innovation, and investment, Mr. Zuckerberg says.

Recommended: Immigration reform: where things stand now

“As leaders of an industry that has benefited from this economic shift, we believe we have the responsibility to work together to ensure that all members of society gain from the rewards of the modern knowledge economy,” Zuckerberg, the co-founder of the super PAC, wrote in the op-ed.

Among those on board are Google executive Eric Schmidt, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, venture capitalist John Doerr, and investor Ron Conway.

One-third of the residents in Silicon Valley are immigrants, according to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. This includes half of the work force and two-thirds of those under 18 in the area. The SVCF says the community is struggling with inadequate legal support services, infrastructure for both documented and undocumented immigrants, among other issues.

Samuel Evans, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says the super PAC seems like an extension of a corporate, social-responsibility mandate. While it is too early to tell the direction the super PAC will take in its advocacy, he says, the organization seems committed to helping highly skilled workers that would benefit Silicon Valley, as well as others within the immigrant population.

“From an optimistic point of view, these people are trying to affect real social change,” he says. “…the whole point is it would be a larger reform for all of society [that says] ‘we don’t want to just be serving the interests of the company.’ ”

Although Zuckerberg touches upon the challenges facing both individual workers and families, he focuses on bringing more high-skilled workers into the United States. He notes than 40 percent of math and science graduate students who are educated in the US are not American citizens and that few H-1B visas are available for those interested (the supply runs out just a few days after the visa lottery opens).

There are 85,000 H-1B visas available each year, and up to 124,000 petitions have been filed for them, immigration advocates say. However, these types of visas are only available for highly skilled workers and do not affect the millions of undocumented low-skilled workers or families.

Immigration rights advocates are skeptical of the super PAC’s intentions behind reform policies. Gabriel Camacho, immigration programs director for the American Friends Service Committee, says Zuckerberg’s super PAC may just be looking to eliminate caps on visas for highly skilled workers.

“I think the real intent is that the Silicon Valley high technology industry has always been looking for a way to import cheap high-tech labor,” Mr. Camacho says.

These include professionals in computer programming, design, mathematics, engineering, and similar degrees.

Camacho says the super PAC’s efforts could help put pressure on lawmakers to remove caps for H1-B visas, but he does not expect to see much lobbying on their end for immigrants who are not highly skilled workers.

“Obviously, Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley are advocating for their corporate needs,” he says. “So in a way, they are doing immigration reform advocacy but from a completely different perspective. Whether it’s good or bad, I think we need to look into the entire issue of guest workers, how that has historically worked in this country and look at current guest worker programs.”

Richard Strauss, a board member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Boston, says it is common for companies such as Facebook or Google to focus on highly skilled business immigration. He says immigration reform should focus not only on the Super PAC’s appeals for more highly skilled labor, but also on the concerns of families and low-skilled workers, both documented and undocumented.

“This is all a balancing act and what’s going on behind the scenes in the legislation with so-called immigration reform,” Mr. Strauss says. “Everyone is pulling for their interest, and I imagine Zuckerberg is pulling for his interest as a major corporation for getting the skilled worker for his business.”

FWD.us did not respond to requests from The Christian Science Monitor by press time.

For more tech news, follow Steph on Twitter: @stephmsolis

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