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Why Mark Zuckerberg's hackathon won't help immigration reform
Conservative members of the House are seemingly impervious to the Facebook founder's charms — and deep pockets
Sorry, Zuck: Republicans aren't biting.
Sorry, Zuck: Republicans aren't biting. (JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters/Corbis)
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s the year draws to a close, and it becomes less and less likely that an immigration bill is going to find its way to President Obama’s desk, reform advocates are desperately trying to keep the issue front and center. The latest attempt to raise public awareness comes courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder who is hosting a “DREAMer Hackathon” in Silicon Valley.

Twenty young, undocumented programmers gathered at LinkedIn’s headquarters this week to code for 24 hours straight. Their task was two-fold. First, they were there to create new apps that could help pro-immigration reform forces share their stories and contact members of Congress. But perhaps even more importantly, the exercise was meant to show lawmakers in Washington that these kids have a lot to offer this country even if they came to the United States illegally.

“Members of the tech community are keenly aware of the critical contributions immigrants — and particularly DREAMers — are already making to our economy and our country,” said Joe Green, the president of advocacy group Fwd.us, when he announced the event in October. “This Hackathon is a way to make those contributions more tangible by connecting DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children — with some of the most innovative product design and engineering talent in Silicon Valley.”

Zuckerberg and other tech titans — including Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, Steve Chen, a co-founder of YouTube, and Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix — are lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform through Fwd.us. The group wants to see Congress clear a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, as well as increase the number of skilled H-1B visas the country hands out to qualified applicants, thus giving their companies more flexibility in hiring.

Beyond the hackathon, immigration advocates have stepped up their game in the last few weeks. They’ve held dozens of protests around the country, including a hunger strike that began on Nov. 12 in an effort to draw attention to their cause. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, announced she would also fast for a day in solidarity. Pro-reform groups have staged a candlelight vigil outside House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) residence. Hundreds, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero, have been arrested in acts of civil disobedience.

Despite all these efforts, and even though Zuckerberg and his cohort have deep pockets to try to influence the course of the debate, the coalition is up against an intransigent House of Representatives that has stalled the reform efforts. Following the 2012 election, when President Obama won a second term thanks in large part to the support of Latino voters, it appeared as though there was some recognition within the Republican Party that it would have to address the country's broken immigration system.

The Senate was able to pass a sweeping bill that included a pathway to citizenship, but as legislative efforts dragged into the summer and then the fall, it became clear that the House would not bring any immigration bills to the floor, let alone pass a comprehensive one that allows the undocumented to stop living in the shadows.

While much of the electorate is becoming more diverse, there are still numerous House districts that remain overwhelmingly white and conservative thanks to gerrymandering. These Republicans have constituents who still favor strict immigration policies. And thanks to the problems with the rollout of healthcare reform, Republican leaders may think they no longer need immigration reform to craft a winning message for the 2014 midterms.

Laura Colarusso
Laura Colarusso is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She has previously written for Newsweek, The Boston Globe, the Washington Monthly and The Daily Beast.

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