Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is making a high-profile
case for immigration reform on Monday night, speaking publicly for the first
time on an issue he has worked on behind the scenes for months.
The 29-year-old tech titan is likely to position his immigration advocacy as more than a self-interested hunt for foreign tech workers -- something, instead, that is rooted in a broader Silicon Valley ethos. Among his causes is a pathway to citizenship for the nation's roughly 11 million immigrants here illegally.
Zuckerberg jumped into Beltway politics this spring with FWD.us, a lobbying group he launched with his former Harvard roommate Joe Green. The two are among several tech leaders and immigration activists scheduled to talk Monday night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco after the screening of "Documented," a movie by activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.
"When Mark and Joe Green told me they were starting FWD.us they made it clear it wasn't going to just be about H-1B visas and engineers," Vargas said in an interview Monday, referring to the temporary work visas that Facebook and other technology companies use to recruit skilled foreign workers.
Vargas became a prominent face of the immigrant rights movement when the graduate of Mountain View High School and San Francisco State University and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter came out as an "undocumented immigrant" in a 2011 essay, stunning many of his friends and colleagues. His new movie explores his relationship with his mother, who sent him from the Philippines to the United States as a child and has not seen him in two decades.
Vargas met Zuckerberg and Green while profiling the Facebook executive for The New Yorker magazine. Months later, when Vargas unveiled his immigration status, Green sent him an email asking: "How can I help?"
While "it's very easy to be cynical about this issue," Vargas said he believes Zuckerberg's interest in immigration reform goes beyond his company's bottom line.
"The issue is bigger than engineers and the tech community," Vargas said. "Where would Silicon Valley be without day workers, without gardeners, without undocumented students? They know that."
The growing collaboration between Silicon Valley leaders and immigrant activists is a "marriage of unlikely allies" that bodes well for the passage of reform, Vargas said.
But the event comes as Congress increasingly appears stalled on immigration legislation. The Senate passed a sweeping bill in June, but the House of Representatives has been unable to find consensus and is about to enter a monthlong summer recess.
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