Immigration Reform, Silicon Valley Style

The president of FWD.us says his group is taking on the issue, Silicon Valley-style.

National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 7, 2014, midnight

After “dis­rupt­ing” — as the tech par­lance goes — just about everything else in Amer­ica, Sil­ic­on Val­ley is now try­ing to hack Wash­ing­ton. Joe Green, the founder and pres­id­ent of FWD.us, a group formed less than a year ago with the back­ing of Face­book’s Mark Zuck­er­berg and oth­er bold­face tech names, thinks his or­gan­iz­a­tion’s ap­proach will help get com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form across the fin­ish line this year.

After House Re­pub­lic­ans last week re­vived the pro­spects of re­form, which had been left for dead in the fall, Green’s group spent $750,000 on ad­vert­ising to thank and sup­port them. Un­like most oth­er ad­vocacy groups, FWD.us works with both parties and em­ploys staffers who have some­times fought against each oth­er — which can cre­ate awk­ward mo­ments around the wa­ter cool­er. Na­tion­al Journ­al caught up with Green to dis­cuss im­mig­ra­tion, tech­no­logy, and what hap­pens when a Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ive in cow­boy boots meets the sev­en vari­et­ies of trash can in a tech com­pany’s of­fice. Joe Green of FWD (Bri­an Ach/Getty Im­ages for Tech­Crunch)

Why Sil­ic­on Val­ley cares about im­mig­ra­tion.

We’re all en­tre­pren­eurs, and that means a cul­ture of tak­ing risks and ac­cept­ing fail­ure. En­tre­pren­eurs from around the world want to come here to start their com­pan­ies be­cause of that cul­ture, which comes from be­ing a na­tion of im­mig­rants. We’re people who re­fused to ac­cept what we had and wanted a bet­ter life. So we really identi­fy with the im­mig­rant ex­per­i­ence, and that doesn’t just mean people with gradu­ate de­grees.

What makes FWD.us dif­fer­ent.

We’re very new. There’s this kind of Sil­ic­on Val­ley hack­er mind-set: Let’s try to look at things as they are now and see where we can add value. For one, we’re polit­ic­al, but we work on both sides of the aisle. And second, be­cause we do come from the tech com­munity, we’re able to bring a lot in­nov­at­ive solu­tions, like Push4Re­form, a smart­phone app that al­lows any­one to see where their mem­ber of Con­gress stands on im­mig­ra­tion re­form and then con­tact them eas­ily on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent plat­forms. That came out of a hack­a­thon with Dream­ers who knew how to code, be­cause who bet­ter to build the tools to com­mu­nic­ate re­form than the people whom it will help?

On the past year.

It’s been a huge year for immi­gra­tion re­form. I think we were able to play a really crit­ic­al role in get­ting the Sen­ate bill done and mov­ing things for­ward. We set up an or­gan­iz­a­tion that is able to work on both sides of the aisle and is seen as a pro­duct­ive play­er by people who have been do­ing this for a lot longer than we have, even though we’re the new kid on the block.

In terms of les­sons, we came out of the gate really, really quickly. We star­ted cook­ing this [up] in late Janu­ary, early Feb­ru­ary, and by early April we had ads on the air and had hired a bunch of staff. We didn’t have nearly the time we would have liked, but I think we’ve done a bet­ter job of that since. We’re big and new and dis­rupt­ive, and it’s im­port­ant to com­mu­nic­ate who you are when you come on the scene.

On be­ing both Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an.

There are cer­tainly chal­lenges and an in­her­ent ten­sion, and there have some­times been kind of comed­ic mo­ments in the of­fice. We’ve got folks who have been on the op­pos­ite sides of each oth­er for dec­ades, even lit­er­ally on op­pos­ite sides of spe­cif­ic races. It’s al­ways amaz­ing how much they ac­tu­ally like work­ing to­geth­er, even though there are hil­ari­ous things that go down.

For in­stance, you’ve got [former Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or] Rob Jes­mer, this tall, cow­boy-boot-wear­ing Re­pub­lic­an, and Al­ida Gar­cia, who’s a short Mex­ic­an-Amer­ic­an from L.A., who ran Latino vote out­reach for Obama. Just the pic­ture, right? Jes­mer’s been amazed, go­ing to a bunch of tech com­pany of­fices and see­ing all the amaz­ing food and the sev­en dif­fer­ent kinds of trash cans.

What’s next.

That new ad is in­dic­at­ive of our strategy. You’ll con­tin­ue to see us make ma­jor me­dia buys; you’ll con­tin­ue to see us do grass­roots ad­vocacy among the tech com­munity. You’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to see us throw­ing everything we’ve got at get­ting le­gis­la­tion the pres­id­ent can sign.

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