Facebook Inc. (FB) Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg announced the creation of an advocacy group called Fwd.us to lobby for immigration changes, higher academic standards and investments in scientific research.
The group is backed by technology entrepreneurs and investors, including John Doerr at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and LinkedIn Corp. Chairman Reid Hoffman, according to the Fwd.us site. The organization has offices in Silicon Valley and Washington.
The move injects Zuckerberg, 28, into a contentious debate over immigration policy. Congress is discussing whether to open a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, even as some lawmakers call for stricter border control. Fwd.us supports helping undocumented workers become citizens and is calling for an increase in H-1B visas, a program favored by the technology industry that let skilled guest workers come to the U.S.
“My great-grandparents came through Ellis Island,” Zuckerberg said in a Washington Post opinion column announcing the move. “My grandfathers were a mailman and a police officer. My parents are doctors. I started a company. None of this could have happened without a welcoming immigration policy, a great education system and the world’s leading scientific community that created the Internet.”
Zuckerberg, co-founder of the world’s largest social- networking website, has expanded his role in politics over the past two years. In February, the billionaire welcomed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to his California home for Zuckerberg’s first political fundraiser. He hosted President Barack Obama at a town-hall meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in 2011, appearing with Obama on stage as he fielded questions.
The new group’s president is Joe Green, who founded Causes, a fundraising service, and co-founded NationBuilder, which helps groups and politicians organize online support. Major contributors to Fwd.us include Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer, Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings, and Andrew Mason, co-founder and former CEO of Groupon Inc.
Rob Jesmer, former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is Fwd.us’s campaign manager, according to a statement from the organization.
As part of its platform, the group calls for providing law enforcement with tools for helping secure the U.S. border, along with an employment-verification system that is “simple and effective.” The group supports changes to the immigration system to “better strengthen the American economy and American families.”
Zuckerberg’s foray may not change the playing field on the immigration debate in Washington, said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, an Arlington, Virginia-based advocacy group that works to reduce immigration.
“The tech companies have been lobbying like crazy for a decade,” Beck said in an interview. “Every member of Congress already knows the tech companies have money to throw around in their campaigns, and that the tech companies want more foreign workers.”
Fwd.us encourages visitors to its site to take action by posting a message to the website of Menlo Park, California-based Facebook or to Twitter Inc., a microblogging service.
“We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials,” Zuckerberg wrote in the column. “We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes, and we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington.”
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