POLITICS

Mark Zuckerberg announces $10 million campaign to promote immigration reform

Mark Zuckerberg at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 7, 2015 in San Francisco.

Mark Zuckerberg at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 7, 2015 in San Francisco.  (2015 Getty Images)

An advocacy group founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to push for more flexible immigration laws, FWD.us, is launching a multimillion dollar campaign with the hope of bringing forth reform in 2017.

The campaign could cost some $10 million over the next year, according to Politico, and is expected to include digital and TV ads, research and polling.

News of the campaign came on the heels of Zuckerberg and his wife's announcement Tuesday that they plan to devote the bulk of their wealth, or about $45 billion, to philanthropic works.

FWD.us, which Zuckerberg launched in 2013 and includes such tech partners as Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt, aims to be a counter-force to what it sees as the hostile approach to immigration being pushed by certain GOP presidential candidates.

"FWD.us’ mission is to mobilize the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century," the group states on its website. "We support comprehensive immigration reform, improving the quality of American education, and encouraging more investment in scientific innovation."

The new initiative will expand Fwd.us’s presence to 12 more states and will aim for districts of House Republicans – who were a factor in the failure of a 2013 bipartisan Senate comprehensive bill to gain traction in the lower chamber.

The pro-immigration campaign is also moving into presidential battleground states, Politico said.

Though billionaire Donald Trump has led the charge against any move toward flexible immigration laws, especially those that would provide any kind of break to undocumented immigrants, other GOP candidates have echoed similar hard line views, Fwd.us officials say.

They want to push their campaign next year, in the hope that immigration reform can happen in 2017, when there’ll be a new president.

"It's a good time to inform people of the stakes," said Rob Jesmer, a veteran Republican political operative and campaign manager at Fwd.us. "There is a lot of focus on one candidate, frankly," he added of Trump, "(but) there are several who are out of the mainstream. ... From a policy situation if we nominate any of those people we are going to lose. No two ways about it."

"If we have a pro-reform Democrat and Republican, then this is great news," Jesmer said. "What the project looks like somewhat depends on who the candidate is."

FWD.us polling shows that many Americans back reform that would allow certain undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize their status, and do not favor mass deportation, viewing that tactic as something that smacks of “a police state,” Politico said.

Zuckerberg has been an increasingly vocal proponent for comprehensive immigration reform, driven by the high-tech industry’s interest in an expansion of visas for high-skill workers and, more recently, his growing alliances with Dreamers.

In a San Francisco appearance a couple of years ago, Zuckerberg said his interest in an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy surpassed bringing in more high-tech workers from overseas.

"There are 11 million undocumented people who came here to work hard and contribute to the country," Zuckerberg said, "and I don't think it's quite as polarized as people always say."

To be sure, many other groups have been diligently making efforts to push for immigration reform and fight back against the hard line rhetoric by Trump and others. These groups, which include Mi Familia Vota and the National Council of La Raza, are conducting voter registration drives in swing states.

"The goal is to create momentum for immigration policy reforms on the other side of the election," Politico quoted Frank Sharry, head of the pro-reform group America's Voice, as saying. "The bottom line is we think there is a good chance that 2016 is going to be 2012 on steroids, with increased Latino and Asian American turnout. ... When it comes to general election time, the post-2012 GOP autopsy is going to look like child's play compared to what the 2017 autopsy looks like."

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s  dismal performance among Latino voters in 2012 – just 27 percent voted for him – led to soul-searching by the GOP about how to establish ties with the increasingly important electorate.

On the other side, groups that favor strict immigration enforcement have their own campaigns underway.

Numbers USA has been airing commercials during presidential debates that push for tougher immigration laws.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, has been urging its members around the country to raise questions about immigration at town hall meetings and other public appearances held by presidential candidates.

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