On November 20 and 21, Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us will be hosting its DREAMer Hackathon to bring together tech-savvy, undocumented immigrants with designers and programmers from top tech companies to create innovative products and designs with the goal to launch the best ideas to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But why has Silicon Valley directed its attention to immigration reform?
Tech companies’ push for immigration reform comes as no surprise. The average foreign born student who attends an U.S. university and majors in a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) creates about 2.62 jobs for American workers. Rather than keep these highly skilled workers in America, our restrictive visa laws send them home after studying at our universities.
Undocumented immigrants are more likely to pursue employment in low-paying, low-profile occupations regardless of their skills—such as farming, child care, or cleaning services—where their legal status is less likely to be discovered. After teaching a class on entrepreneurship in an after-school program, Zuckerberg recognized this trend and was inspired to launch the FWD.us campaign.
“One day I asked my students what they thought about going to college. One of my top aspiring entrepreneurs told me he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to go to college because he’s undocumented. His family is from Mexico, and they moved here when he was a baby. Many students in my community are in the same situation; they moved to the United States so early in their lives that they have no memories of living anywhere else,” Zuckerberg wrote. “These students are smart and hardworking, and they should be part of our future.”
As Zuckerberg points out, today’s economy is very different. It is based primarily on knowledge and ideas — resources that are renewable and available to everyone. To compete, we should aim to train and retain this talent, not discourage it.
These benefits are not limited to tech companies either. The Center for Bipartisan Policy recently released a report about economic impacts of immigration reform for the United States and found reform would reduce budget deficit and contribute to economic growth. The report uses a twenty year time span and concludes immigration reform would: spur economic growth at 4.8 percent, reduce the federal deficit by nearly $1.2 trillion, jump start the housing recovery with residential housing construction spending at an average of $68 billion per year, expand the labor force by 4.4 percent, offset the aging workforce with 13.7 million people, and increase long term wages by 0.5 percent.
In addition to economic growth, immigration reform would help undocumented immigrants who are already residing in the U.S. to exercise their employment rights. Currently, employers who use undocumented immigrants for labor can threaten retaliation with deportation and can pay artificially low wages.
The advantages of comprehensive immigration reform are evident. Not only would we attract the brightest and the best to help compete globally, but we would also break down barriers that prevent those already here from demanding higher wages and therefore balance our recovering economy.
In Mark Zuckerberg’s words, “We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants. And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.”