The D.C. lobbyist for Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg says online companies will use their far-reaching and intrusive network to persuade Americans to back a massive immigration overhaul.
“Part of our job, and what we are good at, and should be really, really good at, is using the mediums we created to push out a narrative, to push out a story,” said Joe Green, the president of FWD.US, the lobbying group created and operated by Zuckerberg and other infotech giants who share the same goal of getting more cheap, skilled labor.
That’s a “selfish” goal, admitted one billionaire who spoke at the same event.
Zuckerberg has a net worth of almost $20 billion, partly because his network is used by 170 million Americans to socialize with their friends around the country.
He’s backing the Senate immigration bill, which will triple immigration during the next decade by providing 30 million green cards to immigrants and giving temporary work permits to at least 15 million guest workers.
Polls show the increased inflow is very unpopular among swing-voters, among Republicans and among those who see their parents, spouses, siblings, sons and daughters are stuck in low-wage jobs or sit on the dole. In 2012, 284,000 college graduates were working at minimum wage jobs, up from 127,000 in 2006, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Those incoming workers sought by Facebook and other companies include programmers, marketing experts, doctors, pharmacists, researchers, therapists and designers. They’re slated to work in many cities, not just in Silicon Valley. Only a small minority of incoming workers are agriculture workers.
The Senate bill would flatline Americans’ wages for at least a decade, and shift more of the nation’s annual income to company owners and investors, according to a June report by the Congressional Budget Office.
But the bill is strongly backed by the tech industry’s big players, including Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
On Wednesday, Microsoft’s Skype and Bing subsidiaries arranged a video conference so that Vice President Joe Biden could promote the immigration bill. The companies allowed the White House to screen the questioners, according to a report in Politico.
“It is creepy… that the people who control the means of debate are trying to impose their point of view,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Zuckerberg and his fellow billionaire lobbyists are “moneybags like just like John D. Rockefeller a hundred years ago,” Krikorian said. But their domination of the internet makes their push all the more overbearing.
“This would be like Alexander Graham Bell saying he would use phones to push his agenda,” he said.
Rockefeller and his fellow millionaires were assailed by the first generation of investigative reporters, dubbed the muckrakers. But Zuckerberg and his university-trained billionaire allies are enthusiastically backed by nearly all university-trained establishment journalists whose careers are intertwined with the internet companies’ services.
Zuckerberg created his FWD.US group to push the bill, and reportedly has offered to buy tens of millions of dollars in campaign advertising to aid cooperative legislators.
The group’s goal, Green said Monday, is to “broadly shape the national conversation” so that sympathetic, business-backed Republicans can approve the immigrations bills.
“One of these things we’re concentrating as we go forward is… finding, recoding and sourcing those stories of immigrants who are adding to their community, who are creating American jobs,” he told supporters attending a Tuesday meeting in D.C.
The stories are needed to help GOP legislators fend off opposition from their constituents who oppose the bills, according to Todd Schulte, the executive director of FWD.US.
“Members of Congress need those stories so they can repeat them [and] they need that validation,” said Schulte.
“We need to provide an infrastructure so [supportive] people can reach out to their members of Congress… so that when a member of Congress stands up, they are standing with somebody from the faith community, law enforcement and tech,” he said.
Green and Schulte repeatedly claimed the immigration bill is popular. “All of the polling you do shows the overwhelming majority of 75 percent to 80 percent of Americans support ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” Green said.
Actually, a large slice of the swing-voting public offers conditional and equivocal support of amnesty for some of many illegal immigrants, alongside near-universal opposition to the arrival of more foreign workers.
But other tech-industry people at the Monday meeting testified to the unpopularity of the worker side of the immigration bill.
“My parents live in Culpepper, [Virginia,]” said tech-investor Donna Harris, who supports increased immigration.
They are “against immigration reform [and] the few times we actually talk about it — because we try not to — it comes from the idea that if you’re supporting immigration reform, you’re not taking full action to help the people that are already here,” she said.
That concern “is fueled by high unemployment rates and the viewpoint that our kids are not ready for the knowledge economy, and I think that’s an accurate assessment,” she said.
The fix, she added, is to increase immigration and reform education.
Culpepper is located beside the district represented by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who is playing an important role in the immigration debate.
Steve Case, the billionaire founder of America Online, also spoke at the meeting, where he described the tech industry’s push for cheaper labor as selfish.
The admission came as he explained the billionaire’s alliance with progressives.
Democrats have long blocked the industry-backed bills that would have provided them with more university-trained guest workers.
So last year, business lobbyists agreed to join progressives to win a “comprehensive” bill that would provide skilled and unskilled foreign workers for tech firms, food companies, restaurants and hotels, while also providing a huge wave of new Democratic-leaning immigrant voters.
“The tech community, the entrepreneurial community, has pivoted away from focusing — which they had for many, many years — narrowly and somewhat selfishly on tech-related immigration reform,” Case told the meeting. Now they “embrace a broader, more comprehensive solution, [and] that’s why there is some hope that immigration reform will pass,” said Case.
The industry’s selfish goal of more guest workers “doesn’t have the broad consensus” it needs to pass, Case admitted.
The industry is pushing for more foreign workers, in part, because they use them to replace middle-aged, well-paid American tech experts.
“The experience that I’ve had… [is that] the vast majority of the money you spend is on payroll,” said Green, who is also an tech investor. “The single biggest kind of question about whether you’re going to scale [up] quickly or not is whether or not you’re going to find the right people.”
Other advocates for the major immigration increase also acknowledge the opposition’s strength.
The leading House advocates for greater immigration, Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez, for example, said Dec. 11 that he conceals his negotiations with sympathetic GOP legislators.
“I don’t name any Republicans that I work with, because here’s what happens — when I say it, the blogosphere goes crazy, and they get attacked and they get beat up,” Gutierrez told a roomful of reporters. “When I’m sometimes down in the gym, I get a Republican member I’m talking to, and I go, ‘I’m on my best behavior. [It is] day number 19, and I haven’t mentioned your name.’”
Multiple news reports say Gutierrez is working with House budget chairman Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who has declined many requests to talk about his advocacy for large-scale immigration.