Philadelphia – As the issue of immigration took center stage at the Democratic convention, one of the most powerful groups pushing for a sweeping reform of the system was in full force behind the scenes.
FWD.us, formed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, among other tech industry heavyweights, was at panel discussions, meeting with members of Congress, and conducting media interviews – all to make the case for comprehensive immigration reform.
FWD.us President Todd Schulte, who Zuckerberg hired in 2013 when a comprehensive immigration reform bill was gaining momentum, and passed in the Senate before stalling in the House, said he is looking at 2017 as the next best chance for an overhaul in the system to take place.
And the convention – brimming with members of Congress, White House officials, international media -- offered an opportunity to make the case for reform far and wide in the space of just four days.
“Our immigration system is 50 years old,” said Schulte, a Harvard graduate who was former chief of staff at Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC that released damaging ads about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. “It’s important to have a legal immigration system that works.”
A legal system that is cumbersome, that is plagued by long waits and layers of bureaucratic red tape, Schulte said, encourages people to look for shortcuts, for ways to circumvent the rules.
“There are 11 million people who are here, they’re not going to go anywhere,” Schulte said.
Schulte spent the convention week pressing lawmakers for more than just moral support.
“We want everyone to know that there’s a window” for passing a measure, he said.
“We’re talking to Democrats, a lot of them are supportive, but we need to actually be champions,” Schulte said. “We don’t want to wait five years, we don’t want to wait for a president’s second term.”
In what is not common for immigration reform advocacy groups, FWD has a direct line to both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
It was part of the group’s mission from the outset to establish ties with members of both major political parties.
Zuckerberg has held several meetings in Washington with liberal and conservative lawmakers, making the argument that reforming immigration to expand-1B visas, declutter the process for gaining legal status, and helping pave a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants are all moves that would benefit the United States in a number of ways.
In recent years, FWD.us has devoted increasing attention to young undocumented immigrant, commonly called Dreamers, inviting them to hackathons, lending financial and technological support to those with promising ideas for apps, and helping them use social media to build support for immigration reform.
In making the case to Republican lawmakers, Schulte said, FWD.us stresses to how helping bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows falls in line with their priority of law and order, and acting in the interest of national security.
“Bipartisan,” Schulte said of FWD.us’s approach, “is the only way it’s going to get done.”
Both Schulte and Zuckerberg have made little secret about what they think of Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee.
Trump threw down the gauntlet on illegal immigration from the time he launched his presidential campaign.
“Donald Trump made it really clear what he wants to do,” Schulte said. “The wall gets a lot of attention.”
Schulte has timed how long it took Trump to launch into the evils of undocumented immigrants in his speech – “117 seconds into his speech.”
At a meeting for software developers earlier this year, Zuckerberg bemoaned the “fearful voices calling for building walls.”
At the convention this week, advocates for immigration reform said FWD.us lends an important voice and clout to their cause.
“FWD has done great work,” said David Leopold, who is past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and helped write the immigration plank for the Democratic convention platform.
Leopold said that FWD’s argument that reforming immigration, and bringing undocumented immigrants into the fold, is a valid and strong one.
“They correctly see a healthy business immigration system as important to creating jobs for U.S. workers,” Leopold said. “My hat goes off to them.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.