Immigration Reform, Silicon Valley Style

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

Empty spaces await photos of Presidential confirmations to the Department of Homeland Security as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), at the naturalization office on January 17, 2014 in New York City.
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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