Are Technology Companies Undermining Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

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Immigration reform is politically and monetarily important to different interests for different reasons. One angle would be the undocumented immigrants presently in the United States who are seeking a pathway to residency and eventually citizenship. There are also the interests of the agricultural industry, which is in need of a labor force, and finally, there are the concerns of the technology industry, which demands that the highly skilled workforce accessible through immigrants be allowed to buoy American tech development.

The last group is cause for worry, at least for members of Congress and groups looking to pass a comprehensive immigration bill anytime soon. Technology companies are beginning to grow weary of the wait, and there are concerns that a push for a separate bill on skilled worker immigration would sweep other interests and a more all-encompassing effort under the rug.

I am troubled by recent statements suggesting that some in the technology industry may shift their focus to passage of stand-alone legislation that would only resolve the industry’s concerns,” wrote Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a letter to the CEOs of large tech companies.

“This ‘divide and conquer’ approach destroys the delicate political balance achieved in our bipartisan bill and calls into question the good faith of those who would sacrifice millions of lives for H-1B relief,” he said, referring to the non-immigrant visa that employers were given the ability to use for the employment of skilled workers in a previous reform. Durbin was one of the authors of the last comprehensive immigration reform bill to hit the Senate, and he is working to get Congress on board with another larger bill, as opposed to piecemeal legislation.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, is one name in the tech industry siding with Durbin. He headed to Washington in September to discuss the need for reform, putting emphasis on broad immigration changes rather than tech-specific reforms. “Actually addressing the 11 million undocumented folks is a lot bigger problem than high-skilled workers,” said Zuckerberg, according to theĀ Los Angeles Times. He has also has listed immigration as “one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time.”

While immigrants already within the United States, some of whom for most of their lives, are a major consideration that Democrats are working to include in any reform bill, the economic disadvantages of poor immigration law has been one of the greater focuses.

The cost is foregone jobs created in and even beyond the companies demanding these talented workers. … It is well documented that companies that cannot hire talented immigrants either don’t hire anyone at all or hire people overseas — neither of which is optimal for the companies themselves or for America overall,” said Dartmouth economist Matthew Slaughter to Roll Call. For that reason, it makes sense that technology companies are losing patience with a more difficult-to-obtain bill. However, spitting the issues, should that happen, will change the immigration reform environment.

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