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What The Other Silicon Valley Immigration Group Is Doing This Month

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, May 16 2013

A bipartisan coalition of political advocacy, business and tech groups are moving ahead to launch a social media blitz next week designed to persuade members of the Senate to vote in favor of immigration reform legislation supported in Silicon Valley.

"We're going to create a virtual digital storm," said Jeremy Robbins in a Wednesday evening conference call with supporters. Robbins is the director of the Partnership for a New American Economy and a policy advisor and special counsel to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Partnership for a New American Economy is chaired by a group of mayors and CEOs of big U.S. companies, and has been pushing for immigration reform since 2010. Its chairs include Bob Iger, Walt Disney's CEO, Jim McNerney, the chairman of Boeing, Bill Marriott, Jr. Chairman and CEO of Marriott, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch, Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter, Los Angeles' Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio.

This hoped-for online blitz from supporters comes as FWD.us, another industry group, suffers the dissatisfaction of progressive organizers for promising a grassroots campaign for immigration reform, then pursuing a campaign that alienated left-leaning allies with TV ads clearly meant to court anti-environment lawmakers.

The "March for Innovation" messaging effort will take place next Wednesday and Thursday after the amended immigration reform legislation is expected to make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it's currently up for debate. It's supposed to involve celebrity online videos and a coordinated social media campaign.

"The intent of this is to capture the attention of the people who are working on this both in the committee, and in the wider Senate, to try to show a bunch of different perspectives and show the strength of the community that's coming out to be part of this," said Mike McGeary, co-founder and director of Engine, an advocacy group of 500 startups in San Francisco. Engine is one of the groups that's organizing the event.

The two-day blitz will also feature a Reddit AMA, and a Google Hangout discussion on the case for immigration reform, featuring McGeary, Robbins, the Consumer Electronics Association and Sumit Suman, the founder of Mentii, a mentorship network that's based in New York City. Suman will be participating from Bangalore because he couldn't navigate the visa system and stay in the United States to continue running his company.

The group is also using ThunderClap to enable people to simultaneously send messages to their senators through Twitter and Facebook. Each message will be tagged with the author's state, and the messages will be targeted toward their state senator, said Robbins.

The organizers have gathered a wide spectrum of groups, including most recently Organizing for Action and Republicans for Immigration Reform. Each group will encourage their members to use all of these tools to message their members of Congress, and their social networks on immigration reform.

For their part, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade group with a membership of 400 local companies, has asked its members to get their employees involved in the campaign, and for the companies to put campaign badges on their websites.

On Thursday, both the White House and OFA released an online video pushing for high-tech immigration reform, and the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its markup, with amendments from Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on visas for foreign investors and startup founders.