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Facebook's Zuckerberg says immigration reform 'biggest civil rights issue of our time'

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FILE: September 18, 2013: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers remarks in an onstage interview for the Atlantic Magazine in Washington, D.C.REUTERS

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg suggested Sunday that U.S. immigration reform is “one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time.”

The 29-year-old billionaire, who has recently taken a more active role in calling for immigration reform, made the comment on ABC’s “This Week.” And he was immediately challenged by the interviewer, who suggested many Americans would likely disagree that providing a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million people living in this country illegally is a civil rights issue.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about that,” Zuckerberg responded. “A lot of them came here because they just want to work. They want to help out their families and they want to contribute.”

Zuckerberg recently founded the group FWD.us with other Silicon Valley leaders “to promote policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy,” according to its website.

His efforts follow the Democrat-controlled Senate earlier this year passing sweeping bipartisan reform legislation backed by President Obama.

Such legislation has stalled in the House, where Republican leaders want a more step-by-step approach to reform that begins with border security.

FWD.us’ key points include securing borders, the path to citizenship and support for issuing more H-1B visas.

The group argues the change will “attract the world’s best and the brightest workers.”

However, skeptics argue that allowing U.S. employers to temporarily hire more educated foreign workers for skilled jobs or “specialty occupations” in such fields as technology and engineering allows companies like Facebook to hire lower-paid immigrants over college-educated Americans.

They also argue that the Obama administration’s call for more and better science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- or STEM -- education as a path toward personal prosperity continues amid an already tight job market.

“Are there too few well-trained Americans for the high-skilled research and manufacturing jobs available stateside?” asks writer Michael Anft in a “Chronicle of Higher Education” story this month. “Most researchers who have looked into the issue -- those who don't receive their money from technology companies or their private foundations, anyway -- say no. They cite figures showing that the STEM-worker shortage is not only a meme, but a myth.”

Zuckerberg also focused his attention Sunday on children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, often called “Dreamers.”

He told ABC that meeting such talented children is “really heartbreaking.”

“They really don’t know any other country besides that, but they don’t have the opportunities that … we all enjoy. It’s really heartbreaking -- right? … One of the things that the ‘dreamers’ here today show is that even if, you know, you’re a child of someone who came here who wouldn’t be considered one of the higher-skilled workers … you can be one of the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. That’s the American Dream.”