It appears Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is plunging into the controversial national debate on immigration reform. An issue-advocacy group he formed has hired two lobbying firms: Peck Madigan Jones; and Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock.
It is unclear exactly what Zuckerberg’s goals are, but he reportedly wants to push for comprehensive immigration reform, possibly including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. How his group’s lobbying efforts dovetail with progress made on immigration reform on Capitol Hill thus far is also unclear, but it looks as though they may be contributing toward getting something done.
Top business and labor groups came together on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, according to reports leaked over the weekend, which will be a crucial plank in a new immigration bill expected to have broad-based support when Congress returns in mid April.
Immigration reform is hardly the only subject Zuckerberg wants to pursue in Washington. He appears eager to explore a range of social and economic issues that will make a difference to the United States’ future — including many affecting education and technology.
As he makes this push, Zuckerberg must surely be aware of the pitfalls that could await him. Getting behind a movement that is controversial in some quarters — such as citizenship for undocumented workers — could hurt Facebook, especially now that it is a public company. It could also tarnish Zuckerberg’s personal brand.
On the other hand, Zuckerberg and his deep pockets could, in fact, make a significant difference, especially on matters crucial to the tech community, such as H-1B visas, which facilitate recruitment of top tech talent from other countries.
Their role in immigration reform is already under debate in Congress, and recent hearings suggest an immigration overhaul will likely increase the H-1B visa supply. Other leaked reports suggest that Congress may place more controls on them by raising fees.
H-1B visas and related issues are likely what Zuckerberg is truly interested in, said Ben Bogardus, assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University.
“He wants to make it easier to bring foreign computer programmers, mathematicians and engineers to the United States,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“There aren’t enough properly educated people here to fill those jobs,” said Bogardus, “but he knows any immigration bill also needs to address low-skilled illegal immigrants. To get one, he needs the other.”
Zuckerberg may have larger motives at play as well, he suggested. He wants to leave a legacy.
“He accomplished so much at such a young age — he feels he needs to do more in order to be considered on the same level as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs,” surmised Bogardus.
Issues like abortion, gay marriage or tax reform won’t give him that, he said, “but things like immigration policy, education, or poverty- and disease-fighting just might.”
There will always be people who suspect ulterior motives behind a lobbying push, but Zuckerberg should just ignore them, said N. Venkat Venkatraman, business professor at Boston University.
“I think Facebook — both individually and collectively, as part of other high-tech organizations — should take stands on what they believe,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“That could and would alienate some,” he acknowledged, “but that is part of the new world where your actions and beliefs cannot be kept secret.”