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Immigration reform: Can Mark Zuckerberg and friends deliver? (+video)

Mark Zuckerberg and a cast of Silicon Valley players are entering the fray over immigration reform. But the new group, FWD.US, says it's also interested in promoting education reform and scientific research.

By Staff writer / April 11, 2013

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen here at Facebook headquarters on March 20, is teaming up with other Silicon Valley leaders to revamp immigration policy with the goal of boosting education and encouraging investment in scientific research.

Jeff Chiu / AP

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Los Angeles

Washington’s bipartisan Gang of Eight senators are in what many hope is the endgame in the debate over immigration reform. But just in case, on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg brought in a slew of major players to bring it all home.

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He and an impressive roster of Silicon Valley luminaries have teamed up with political strategists from across the spectrum to launch a political action group on the issue. Since by most accounts some kind of reform package is likely, the move has some asking, why now?

It’s all about the game, says David Mark, editor-in-chief of the online political site politix.

“This is basically to drive the game across the finish line,” he says, noting that if this pack of corporate heavy-hitters had jumped onto the field earlier, “it could have easily turned people off thinking that this was just a cynical move to get more cheap labor for business.”

Biding their time and weighing in after much of the political gamesmanship has already played out, he says, “allows them to both make their case and help clinch the final deal.”

However, according to the group’s founders, it has a broader horizon than just the current legislation. Dubbed FWD.US, the group plans to advocate for comprehensive immigration and education reform as well as support for scientific research well beyond 2013.

In a Washington Post Op-Ed piece Wednesday, co-founder Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that today’s “economy is based primarily on knowledge and ideas – resources that are renewable…. In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are talented people.”

Beyond helping to nudge the current debate, according to a statement released on Wednesday, the group’s goal is to “organize and engage the tech community in the issues where we can contribute to the national debate, on issues of vital importance to America’s ability to compete in the global knowledge economy.”

Says co-founder Joe Green, a former college roommate of Zuckerberg’s with long involvement in social activism and entrepreneurship, in the same release, “We view this as one of the key challenges to improving our country’s economic future – ensuring that we have as many people as possible in the workforce who have the skills to participate.”

What this means right now is leveraging the group’s collective knowledge of marketing and social media in support of a more immigrant-friendly environment, particularly when it comes to skilled labor.

But whether that marketing and social media expertise will be effective depends on how the group is perceived politically, both in Washington and by the general public.

In that sense, the politics of the Silicon Valley cohort – a coalition of industry heavyweights just came down on the side of same-sex marriage – could hobble the group’s effectiveness, suggests presidential scholar Charles Dunn, a professor of political science at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA.

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