Today, I'm excited to announce the winners of our Built By Immigrants contest: Leezia Dhalla and Samar Birwadker. Leezia and Samar will join Steve Case and me on the main stage at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas later this afternoon.
Leezia Dhalla is an Executive Communications Specialist at Rackspace and currently lives in Illinois. Leezia came to the United States from Canada when she was 6 years old, and learned of her undocumented status on her 21st birthday. Says Leezia: "…I am American in every way except by virtue of birth."
Samar Birwadker is the co-founder and CEO of Good.Co. and currently lives in San Francisco. After working 3 jobs while attending school full-time, he eventually attained his MBA on a nearly full scholarship. As Samar puts it, "immigrants are truly driven by an entrepreneurial spirit - they’re willing to put everything on the line in order to build a better life for themselves and their family." We couldn't agree more.
The goal of Built By Immigrants is to empower immigrant entrepreneurs to tell their stories and encourage their friends and colleagues to share these stories with their members of Congress, turning storytelling into advocacy that is personal and powerful.
Thousands of people have taken action on Built By Immigrants over the last week, racking up over 20,000 advocacy points by sharing immigration stories with their members of Congress.
Although our SXSW contest is now closed, we hope you will still submit and share your immigration story on Built By Immigrants - and encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same. Sharing these stories is a powerful way to demonstrate the need for immigration reform that works for the American economy and American families, and to highlight the countless ways in which immigrants are already contributing to our communities every day.
On Monday, a diverse group of organizations hosted a conversation with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, during her first official trip to Silicon Valley. The discussion was moderated by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, hosted at Plug and Play Tech Center, and presented by Churchill Club, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Tech America, TechNet, and FWD.us.
Secretary Pritzker spoke on her department's efforts to spur U.S. economic growth, innovation and competitiveness, in addition to the benefits immigration reform would pose to our economy.
My name is Luis Gomez and I was born in Guatemala. When I was one or two years old, my parents came to the United States in search of work and I was left in my home country to be raised by my grandmother. For the next six years, all I knew of my parents were their voices on the phone telling me they loved and missed me. When I turned 8 years old, my mom asked me if I wanted to see her, and I immediately said yes. This moment marked the beginning of my immigrant experience.
After I told my mom that I was willing to come to the United States, I made the dangerous journey across the Mexico-U.S. border with my 16-year-old cousin. Because I was so young, I saw the border crossing as an adventure and not as something dangerous. Once in the United States, I boarded a plane to Oregon, and it was at the Portland airport in 1999 that I met my mom for the first time. I did not know what my mother looked like, but I knew she was my mom when she ran up to me and hugged me so hard that my back cracked. A couple of months later, we moved to Massachusetts.
I was so happy to finally be together again with my family. At first it was difficult for me to adjust to the American way of life, but I came to realize that I needed to go to school, study, and do my best because I wanted to make my parents proud. I studied hard and became one of the best students in my class. I played soccer and was part of the National Honor Society and babysat my little brother and sister. My goal at the time was to go to college and become an electrical engineer.
When I was a sophomore in high school in 2007, I realized what it meant to be undocumented. I had just gotten home from school and received a phone call from my aunt telling me that my mother had been caught in a workplace raid by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It was an emotionally wrecking time for many families around the city since over 300 workers were arrested. Fortunately, our family lawyer was able to get my mother out of the detention center after a month.
However, our encounters with immigration enforcement did not end then. A year passed by and everything seemed to be going back to normal until ICE showed up at my house looking for my father. Although ICE did not find my father, he eventually turned himself in because he did not want to live in fear of being persecuted. My father fought his deportation proceedings for a year, but in August of 2009, he lost and was deported back to Guatemala. After only 9 years together, my family was separated once again.
That same year, I graduated from a vocational high school with honors. It was a difficult year for me since I knew that I could not drive, work, continue my vocational career, or use the scholarship that had been awarded to me for college. In 2010, I received a phone call from the Lead Organizer of the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) and was invited to attend Dream Camp, SIM’s first major training. I was convinced and decided to go. At that event I found out that many other students were going through the same situation as I was and it motivated me to make a difference.
For the next two years, I was present at all trainings and meetings and spent a lot of time volunteering—all while working full time in a factory in New Bedford. In 2012, SIM hired me as the Regional Coordinator for New Bedford to help undocumented youth fill out their paperwork for the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, which provides a work permit for two years. One year later, I was offered the responsibility of asking others to join SIM and fight for their communities as a Lead Organizer for SIM. SIM taught me to how to be undocumented and unafraid, and now I am trying to teach others to do the same.
My fight to reunite with my family is currently being documented in “Indivisible”, a film directed by Hilary Linder, and I want to invite you to watch our trailer here and help us raise funds so that I can continue sharing my story of family separation with others. My passion for immigration reform and justice for our communities is fueled by the challenges my family and I have faced in the United States, and I will continue to fight for reform and families through SIM. The time for immigration reform is now!
FWD.us hosted our first Florida chapter event of our new membership program in Miami on Monday. The event was the third in a series of chapter events featuring experts in technology, policy and politics. Like our kickoff events last week, yesterday's panel was "#ThinkFWD: The Future of the Middle class and the American Dream in the 21st Century,” and featured a discussion on keeping the U.S. and its citizens competitive in a global economy.
Panelists included Susan Amat, CEO of Venture Hive, Tony Villamil, Dean of St. Thomas University School of Business, Diane Sanchez, CEO of Technology Foundation of the Americas, and Seth Cassel, President and Partner of EveryMundo.
Our panelists were joined by FWD.us President and founder, Joe Green, who helped guide the conversation and welcome new FWD.us members in vibrant Miami.
FWD.us Joins More than 600 Businesses, Chambers of Commerce, and Business Federations to Send a Message to Speaker Boehner: “The Time is Now” for ReformShare on Twitter Share on Facebook
FWD.us just joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in sending a strong message to Speaker Boehner to move on immigration reform now in a letter with more than 600 signatories, including more than 240 businesses of every size and sector across the country and 390 business associations, bureaus, federations, or chambers representing a wide cross-section of industries and commercial interests.
In the letter, the signatories note, “Failure to act is not an option. We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest. In short, immigration reform is an essential element of a jobs agenda and economic growth. It will add talent, innovation, investment, products, businesses, jobs, and dynamism to our economy.”
Fixing our broken immigration system so that it works for the American economy and American families must be a priority, and we know that support for reform has never been stronger. A broad coalition of advocates and organizations continues to work together to achieve reform, including Democrats and Republicans, businesses big and small, members of the tech community, agriculture, faith leaders, and law enforcement. In poll after poll, three in four Americans supports fixing our broken system, because Americans across the political spectrum agree that the status quo on immigration is unacceptable. Simply put: the time for reform is now.
Dear Mr. Speaker:
The undersigned 636 business organizations are encouraged by the House Republican Conference’s review of “Standards for Immigration Reform.” We support Congress and the Administration moving forward on immigration reform using these Standards as the guideposts for action this year.
We are united in the belief that we can and must do better for our economy and country by modernizing our immigration system. Done properly, reform will deter illegal immigration, protect and complement our U.S. workforce, better respond to changing economic and demographic needs, and generate greater productivity and economic activity, while respecting family unity.
Failure to act is not an option. We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest. In short, immigration reform is an essential element of a jobs agenda and economic growth. It will add talent, innovation, investment, products, businesses, jobs, and dynamism to our economy.
We urge legislative action to seize this opportunity to fix our dysfunctional immigration system by enacting meaningful immigration reforms this year.
FWD.us & over 600 business organizations.
America has been built by immigrants, and the tech industry is no exception. One of the best parts of my job is meeting members of the tech community at FWD.us events across the country, and hearing from people about immigrants in their company without whom their businesses could not exist. Too often, we get caught in the politics of immigration reform, and forget it is about people: our friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
The goal of Built By Immigrants is to empower immigrants to tell their stories and encourage their friends and colleagues to share these stories with their members of Congress, turning storytelling into advocacy that is personal and powerful.
1. Anyone can upload his or her immigrant story. We encourage every tech company to use this tool to highlight a few of their colleagues.
2. Share the story with friends. Send the story out to your company email list, and share it at your all-hands meeting.
3. When someone sees a story, they connect with Facebook, we locate their members of Congress, and they can easily share this story on Twitter, Facebook, by phone and even through a physical letter to a member’s office.
4. Each communication with Congress generates advocacy points.
And to make it even better, I’m excited to announce that we’re inviting the two contributors with the most advocacy points associated with their stories to join Steve Case on the main stage at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas on March 8th. One winner will be chosen from a company with up to 15 employees, and one with 15 or more.
Built By Immigrants is the result of collaboration across the tech community. The idea came out of a discussion with New York tech leaders including Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures) and Scott Heiferman (Meetup) about how to provide people in every tech company an easy, personal and powerful way to help. Our engineering team and our amazing Code Squad – a group of volunteer engineers who contribute their talents to help pass immigration reform – built this tool.
While House Republicans should be moving forward on passing legislation, we need to keep up the drumbeat that now is the time for reform: there is no better time to submit your story and share other powerful stories with your representatives. Three out of four Americans supports fixing our broken system, and the facts are clear that reform would strengthen our economy.
Immigrant entrepreneurs have already submitted some incredibly moving stories, like Tony, who wrote: “With high motivation, intense drive, and unyielding persistence, I completed my studies near the top of my class and still had a very stressful time finding full-time work on my OPT (F1) immigration status.”
We know there are many more stories of immigrant entrepreneurs living and working in the U.S. who are already contributing to our economy and our country, and we'd love to hear yours.
Make sure to check it out and submit your own story for a chance to join Steve Case at SXSW Interactive on March 8th.
Last night, FWD.us hosted our inaugural chapter event of our new membership program in Silicon Valley. Wednesday’s event was the first in a series of chapter events featuring experts in technology, policy and politics. Last night's panel was "#ThinkFWD: The Future of the Middle class and the American Dream in the 21st Century,” and featured a discussion on keeping the U.S. and its citizens competitive in a global economy.
Panelists included research scientist and author Andrew McAfee, economist Laura Tyson, entrepreneur and investor Joe Lonsdale, and Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng. FWD.us president Joe Green moderated the discussion and fielded questions from the crowd to the experts.
Today, I’m excited to announce that in response to the support we’ve been receiving nationwide for our campaign for immigration reform, FWD.us is launching our new membership program, starting with chapter events in tech hubs like Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley.
Members will play a vital role in the growth and advancement of the organization in cities across the country – and help lay the foundation for our continued work to grow the knowledge economy. FWD.us will count on members to help plan and guide engaging meetings and discussions. In our new program, members will also be invited to special events, speaker series, and other organizing events meant to engage members of the greater tech community. Members will gain access to monthly “ThinkFWD” chapter events featuring experts in tech, policy, and politics – and will be able to join monthly update calls with key stakeholders and tech leaders.
I’m excited to be moderating our first two chapter kickoff events on “The Future of the Middle class and the American Dream in the 21st Century.” Our conversation in Silicon Valley on February 19th will feature Joe Lonsdale, Andrew McAfee, Andrew Ng, and Laura Tyson, and we’ll hear from Peter Thiel and Andrew McAfee in San Francisco on February 20th.
Our new membership program will be $35 annually. Last fall, FWD.us debuted a membership program to our most active supporters, and thousands took us up on the offer to become members. It was amazing to see such grassroots enthusiasm, and we were thrilled to engage with so many supporters as they contacted their members of Congress, shared their personal stories on what fixing our broken immigration system means to them, and encouraged family and friends to join them in the fight for reform. Existing members are already included in our new membership program and the chapter events.
We’re enthusiastic about launching our chapter and new membership programs as a response to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received from our most active supporters – members of the tech community who are eager to tackle the most pressing issues of our time, and engage in meaningful discussions about where our economy is headed, how tech contributes to while fundamentally altering daily life, and how we can be a positive force in expanding opportunity and building an inclusive vision of the knowledge economy.
We’re so excited about this next phase in our organizing, and we hope you’re encouraged to continue your commitment to growing the knowledge economy along with us.
Check out this new poll from Jefrey Pollock, Global Strategy Group and Jon Lerner, Basswood Research highlighting broad public support for immigration reform.
There is broad support for a variety of proposed immigration reform measures being considered by Congress, according to a bipartisan nationwide survey of likely general election voters. Americans overwhelmingly acknowledge the need to reform the country’s current immigration system, and reach consensus behind a wide range of proposals including enforcement measures, new pathways to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and further opportunities for workers in key industries to legally immigrate to the United States. Key findings are as follows:
Americans support every major immigration reform proposal on the table. Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of a variety of proposed reform measures, including implementing a new entry and exit visa tracking system (86% support/11% oppose), requiring employers to electronically verify the legal status of job-seekers (82%/16%), and giving the Department of Homeland Security more resources to secure the border (78%/21%). Each of these three proposals receives the support of at least three-quarters of voters from both parties. Clear majorities also support proposals such as a merit-based visa system for future legal immigrants (78% support/18% oppose), a start-up visa program for foreign entrepreneurs (73%/22%), allowing both more legal immigrants with advanced skills in science or technology (70%/28%) and allowing more lower-skilled legal immigrants as guest workers in industries with labor shortages (64%/33%).
Voters agree that undocumented immigrants should have the opportunity to come out of the shadows and remain in the country legally – whether it’s described as pathway to “citizenship” or to “legal status.” Six in ten Americans support a “pathway to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants presently in the country (63% support/33% oppose). Support is similar for a “pathway to legal status” for undocumented immigrants (58%/37%). Regardless of how it is described, majorities across partisan lines – including Republicans (51% support “citizenship” and 56% support “legal status) – support these proposals. Meanwhile, voters are near-unanimous (88% support/11% oppose) in their support to creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children as long as they meet certain criteria. This measure earns the support of 90% of Democrats, 90% of Independents and 81% of Republicans.
Voters roundly reject the immigration status quo. Americans overwhelmingly call for new reforms (79% adopt new reforms/15% leave the system as is) over leaving the current broken immigration system as is.
There is clear political opportunity for members of Congress who back immigration reform. Americans are far more inclined to vote for incumbents who support immigration reform (39% more likely/9% less likely). This is true among Republican voters (41% more likely/11% less likely), Democrats (43% more/7% less), and Independents (34% more/11% less) alike.
Americans will feel disappointment if Congress does not take this opportunity to reform the nation’s immigration laws. Roughly three in four voters (74% disappointed/25% not disappointed) will be disappointed if Congress does not act on any proposals currently being considered and fails to pass any new laws for the country’s immigration system.
 This survey was conducted by Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group and Republican polling firm Basswood Research among 1,000 likely general election voters nationwide between February 3rd and February 5th, 2014, including an oversample of 200 additional Republican voters. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level is+/- 3.8 percentage points.
In 2012, my co-founder and I started our company KISI in Munich with only a piece of paper and an idea to change the way keys are used. We developed our idea and submitted it to NYC Next Idea, a business plan competition in New York. We were accepted into the competition’s final round and flew to the United States to pitch our company and were thrilled to present in front of a jury that included Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. It was a great experience and made the whole trip worth it. At the end of the competition, KISI was announced as the winner and a whole new set of opportunities opened up for our company.
We decided to move the company to New York City because it has a bigger market and a great technology community. Winning NYC Next Idea meant we had the support of the whole entrepreneurial community behind us. After moving, we quickly became familiar with the burdens people born outside the US but fighting to create jobs here face in trying to found a company in the U.S. Our first challenge was opening a simple company bank account as a foreigner and the obstacles facing our company only grew after that. We feel that navigating the immigration system has definitely been one of the biggest challenges for us as founders, even though we have the support of New York City and many of its institutions.
The company is doing well and is growing--we are creating jobs and we get great feedback from our customers. Still, our company is at a stage where resources are limited and the investment of our time is incredibly important for the company’s success. For me, dealing with the immigration system has turned into a second job and taken away from the time I have to focus on the start-up.
Because immigration issues cannot be quickly resolved, the uncertainty adds even more insecurity to the already unstable life of an entrepreneur. I look forward to the day when this issue is solved and reforms to the U.S. immigration system make it easier to start a company in the United States.
KISI (www.getkisi.com) is a smartphone access system that enables you to share and control virtual keys to your office, home or gym. The technology can be easily implemented into any existing access infrastructure and transforms your phone into a key.