Chapter Leaders Testify in Support of Immigration Action in San Jose

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 01/30/2015

Last Wednesday, two Silicon Valley Chapter members testified at the San Jose City Council in support of a measure to implement President Obama’s executive immigration actions. Shilpa Sachdev, who will gain a work permit from executive action, spoke about her experience on an H-4 visa, which currently prohibits her from working. Rebecca Lunn spoke directly about her experience researching the positive impact of city level immigration offices on local immigrant communities. Both Sachdev and Lunn called on the San Jose City Council to advocate for immigration reform to California’s congressional delegation.

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Watch Silicon Valley Co-Founders Project member Shilpa Sachdev speak to the San Jose City Council here:

Want to find out how you can get involved in your city to advocate for immigration reform? Join your city’s chapter now!

Political Advocacy: The "User Feedback" of Government

Posted by Lisa Conn on 01/26/2015

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Our Organizing Director, Lisa Conn, spoke last week about political advocacy at Collaborate, a conference bringing together the nation’s leading innovators, startups, and entrepreneurs for engaging conversations. Learn more about Collaborate here. Read on as Lisa explains the role of grassroots advocacy on the political process and how tech is trying to close the government feedback loop.

I often hear skeptics claim that tech and politics do not (and should not) mix. Tech is fast, efficient, and innovative, while government is slow, overly bureaucratic, and wasteful. But in reality, our democracy parallels the start-up model more than you might initially suspect.

As the Director of National Organizing at FWD.us, I work alongside both successful entrepreneurs and leading policy makers. And from my experience, what do these two groups most share in common? A strong emphasis on feedback.

Think about it. When entrepreneurs build a product, they continually test user feedback, learn from their assumptions, and then improve the product. Likewise, when representatives make decisions, they turn to feedback loops of their own: elections, town halls, petitions, in-person meetings to understand what policies their “users” want. This is advocacy, and it’s a tragically-overlooked force for change.

The problem today is that too few people take advantage of government feedback loops. Most of the general population only engages in the political process during high-profile presidential elections, if at all. That’s every four years. I can’t imagine a startup being successful if it only received feedback every four years, so why should we expect this of our government?

Luckily, there is a clear solution. We need to provide our government with smart feedback, more often. And it’s my belief that the tech community a group celebrated for being bold, innovative, and solutions-oriented is well-positioned to make this happen.

Now, as newcomers to advocacy, tech doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, I think one of the oldest models is the most promising community organizing. Just look at any major social movement in modern history: civil rights, women’s suffrage, even President Obama’s campaigns. Each of these movements depended upon the efforts of people who organized communities in a way that continually produced new leaders.

At its core, community organizing is about uniting people around shared values. It grows influence by training volunteers, who then go out and mobilize their own community of supporters, and so on. It’s effective, scalable, and iterative, all qualities that go hand-in-hand with the tech mentality.

Back in 2012, I witnessed community organizing’s power first-hand as a Regional Field Director for the Obama campaign in South Florida. My team was expected to turn out over 300,000 voters and register 50,000 new voters in only ten months. So what did we do? We cultivated fearless leaders among our initial group of volunteers, taught them everything we knew about organizing, and watched as they brought more new leaders into the fold. This process continued, neighbor-by-neighbor, until Election Day when we won the state, and the election.

Replace those volunteers with entrepreneurs and leaders within the tech community, and you get a rough sketch of how FWD.us operates. Our national membership is comprised of people from the tech community who are passionate about being part of the political debate. In turn, these innovators inspire others within the community to lend their skills to improving our advocacy, thereby democratizing the feedback mechanisms of government.

The intersection between tech and politics is still evolving, meaning the possibilities for a new and improved landscape are limitless. Imagine a democracy that people have access to. Imagine representatives who are held more accountable to their citizens. Now imagine a tech community unified around making this vision a reality.

Read more insights from Collaborate speakers and attendees on their blog.

How Immigrants are Key to Illinois' Thriving Economy

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 01/16/2015

This week, FWD.us caught up with Rebecca Shi, Executive Director of the Illinois Business and Immigration Coalition, to talk about the major political issues Illinois is tackling in 2015, her work fighting for driver’s licenses for the undocumented community, and the bipartisan movement in Illinois for impactful immigration reform.

Read on to learn more about Rebecca’s insider perspective on government transparency. Make sure to join your local chapter’s next #ThinkFWD panel discussion event to participate in discussions like these.

FWD.us: What are your goals for the future of Cook County? How do you hope the immigrant community will help achieve these goals?

Shi: For us at the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, one of our main goals is to make sure our economy continues to grow in Cook County and throughout the state. We are one of the largest producers in the country in terms of agriculture, specifically vegetables. We’re striving to create an environment that incentivizes business and allows these farms to thrive. 72% of farmworkers in Illinois are immigrants, and many are undocumented, so these issues go hand-in-hand. At the state level, we passed legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. This means that when an undocumented person is driving to work, or taking their kids to school, they don’t have to worry about being pulled over for a broken tail light and deported.


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In Illinois, 40% of venture-backed businesses are started by immigrants and 90% of patents from University of Illinois are earned by immigrants. These entrepreneurs are driving growth in our state. For Cook County to thrive, these immigrants and their businesses have to thrive. They need to know they have a future here and have the security to know they can stay here. Additionally, 40% of workers in our hospitality industry are immigrants and many are undocumented. These people work hard and they do jobs that a lot of other people won’t do. So, immigrants are contributing to our economic growth on all levels.

FWD.us: What are some of the ways you and Illinois Business Immigration Coalition have helped to highlight the stories of individual immigrants’ experiences building their companies or struggling to deal with our broken and outdated immigration system?

Shi: Highlighting storieshas been the center of our advocacy work. There’s no better voice to advocate for immigration reform than the people who are actually affected by it. At the local level we do quarterly meetings and round tables with our Members of Congress. At each of these meetings we have local, successful immigrant entrepreneurs or business owners from their districts share their stories with their representatives. We had a fly-in last year with immigrant farm workers from Illinois in D.C. and they actually brought their produce to show that the agriculture industry is truly backed by immigrants. We also try to do a lot of work in our local news markets – we try incorporate big brands and companies that people recognize into our campaigns to show people who aren’t familiar with this issue how much it affects our state.

FWD.us: In 2013, you fought for drivers licenses for the undocumented community, and now over 250,000 people in Illinois are eligible for a license. What is the impact of getting a drivers license for undocumented people?

Shi: The impact is huge. We know that in the last nine years the level of deportation has really rapidly increased. We worked with the Department of Homeland Security and found that the increase in deportations had a disproportionate impact on children. In fact, 56,108 children were left without parents or guardians due to deportation in Illinois between 2007 and 2013. The most common way that this happened was through a traffic violation, for example if someone is pulled over with a broken tail light on the way to work and is then found to be undocumented. We started this campaign because we want to stop the destruction of families. As we started, we talked to business associations like the Illinois Chamber and Illinois Farm Bureau. We found that employers were very supportive of their immigrant employees and were directly impacted by these deportations because they saw the impact on their businesses, so we actually had several conservative voices supporting this.

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We want people to feel safe driving their kids to school and driving to and from work. I remember I spoke to one mother and she told me that for the first time she was able to drive her family on a vacation to a water park outside of Chicago. For over a decade her family had never taken a vacation because she was too afraid to drive.

FWD.us: What can be done to empower immigrants and the children of immigrants to become more engaged in the political process?

Shi: The most important thing is voter turnout, which is especially low in immigrant communities. Turnout during midterm elections is strikingly lower than during presidential elections, but incredibly important state and local issues are on the ballot in midterm years. So, we need these community to turn out. There’s also data that indicates that naturalized citizens are much more engaged in the political process. There are systematic barriers that block people from being able to naturalize, and we need to reduce those barriers. I think both Democrats and Republicans can do a better job of connecting how the issues they care about can impact the immigrant community. In 2012, we were able to register over 20,000 new voters in 20 districts because the driver’s license legislation directly affected people in their communities. For many immigrant voters, they had family members who were undocumented and so this issue became personal.

FWD.us: Illinois is an epicenter for immigrant businesses. How has the business community and the undocumented community in Illinois come together to work on policy issues?

Shi: Many business leaders themselves are immigrants or have personal connections to people who are undocumented. For example, many energy and utility companies here in Illinois have invested in many charter schools and many of the students at these schools are undocumented or come from immigrant communities. So, the people who work at these companies see the need for highly skilled engineers in their day jobs and also volunteer and invest in these schools where they meet students who have had family members deported. These personal connections are invaluable and getting well-known business leaders to speak out on behalf of immigration issues – beyond just H-1B visas – has helped to steer our coalition.

Our next #ThinkFWD needs your perspective! RSVP now to reserve your seat at your nearest chapter’s upcoming events.

Yesterday's House Vote: Terribly Misguided

Posted by Todd Schulte on 01/15/2015

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We wanted to provide you with an overview of the series of votes yesterday surrounding efforts to repeal the President’s executive immigration actions.

Yesterday’s show vote from the House Republican Conference holds up critical funding for the Department of Homeland Security over the right to restart deportations of DREAMers, and wastes valuable time on a bill that House GOP members know has zero chance of becoming law.

A number of amendments to the funding bill would roll back important and necessary protections for DREAMers, the parents of kids who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents, talented students who go to school in the U.S. and want to stay here to grow their companies and create American jobs, and other undocumented immigrants who have been living here and already contributing to our communities and our economy for years.

In summary – were this passed into law, these millions of people would be placed at risk of deportation – ripping apart millions of families, stifling our economy, and hurting our country. We are encouraged that 26 Republicans broke with their party in opposition of a particularly harmful amendment. And we’re thankful to the 10 Republicans and nearly every Democratic member who voted against the entire measure.

The House floor votes included five particularly harmful amendments that won’t accomplish the meaningful immigration reform that Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support. With the help of our friends at Alliance for Citizenship, here are the key points on each amendment:

The Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta Amendment as passed would prohibit the use of fees collected by USCIS to implement DAPA or DACA, and is specifically designed to prevent the implementation of deferred action programs. The only executive action this amendment leaves in place pertains to pay increases and workforce realignment for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Blackburn Amendment would put at risk of deportation hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who already came forward in good faith, passed background checks, and received temporary DACA protection allowing them to apply for jobs, schools, and driver’s licenses. The Blackburn Amendment also prohibits the use of funds to consider new DACA applications, preventing the expansion of the DACA program to other young people who might not qualify under the program’s rules right now.  

The DeSantis/Roby Amendment ignores existing policies which prioritize criminals convicted of certain sex offenses and domestic violence as the highest targets for law enforcement. These individuals are already excluded from deferred action under DAPA and DACA. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and more than a dozen sheriffs and police chiefs oppose the DeSantis/Roby Amendment because it would also endanger victims of domestic violence by overturning a key DHS policy requiring further investigation into whether a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense was actually the victim of that crime.

The Salmon/Thompson Amendment incorrectly suggests that employers may be incentivized to give hiring preference to individuals who qualify for deferred action because they are not eligible for premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, all full-time employees, regardless of immigration status, are counted as an “employee” in determining whether and how much an employer owes in penalties for failure to meet the health care coverage obligation under the ACA.

The Schock Amendment is based on the false assumption that wait times for some legal immigration categories will increase due to the implementation of DAPA, despite USCIS having the authority to hire new adjudicators to process these applications. Deferred action applications are not expected to slow the processing of legal immigration petitions. Instead of preventing delays, this amendment would interfere with many other applications filed by persons in unlawful status, including asylum applications, U visa and T visa applications by victims of serious crimes and sex trafficking, and green card applications by the spouses of U.S. citizens and victims of domestic violence entitled to relief under the Violence Against Women Act.

On the heels of this vote, it’s more important than ever to remind members of Congress that what we need is real immigration reform – not politically-motivated show votes that waste time that could be spent working toward real and meaningful legislative solutions. We strongly encourage House Republicans to stop their terribly misguided efforts to overturn DACA and instead pursue serious legislation in good faith that will provide a permanent legislative solution to our country’s broken immigration system.