I’ve been one of the staunchest advocates of skilled immigration and have long argued that this should be a top legislative priority for Congress. As I explained in my book, Immigrant Exodus, skilled immigration is an economic issue that is directly tied to the health of our economy. America is bleeding talent and losing global competitiveness because of its flawed immigration policies.
But, as I wrote in my latest Washington Post column, a documentary that I watched made me realize that there is a more urgent priority: the DREAM Act. It is unconscionable that a nation that prides itself on its respect for human rights is knowingly doing the wrong thing.
There are an estimated 1.8 million children in the U.S. who could be classified as “illegal aliens”. Their parents brought them to this country to give them a better future. These “DREAMers”, as they are called, grew up as Americans, believing they were entitled to the same rights and freedoms as their friends. Despite the fact that they have done nothing wrong, they are forced to live in the shadows of society—as second-class human beings with limits on where they can work and study and on what they can do.
This was all brought to life for me in a film called Documented, made by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino immigrant who was brought to this country when he was twelve years old. Vargas studied at San Francisco State University and became a journalist. He shared a Pulitzer Prize for a story he had written while working at The Washington Post in 2007. And he made headlines two years ago by revealing in a New York Times Magazine article that he is an undocumented immigrant. In the documentary, he tells his story and asks Americans to explain why they rally against people like him.
This shouldn’t have been such a revelation for me. I know several people who entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed their visas. And I have met several DREAMers. But Vargas’s story gave me a clearer window on the life of an illegal immigrant and helped me understand their emotions and hardships.
What surprises me the most is that the person I have to thank for educating me on this is someone I have been very critical about: Mark Zuckerberg. In a previous Washington Post column, I slammed his new lobbying group, FWD. I was very critical of FWD’s president Joe Green for doing things the ugly DC way. In an email to my private mailing list, I wrote: “immigration reform is important, but no victory is worth selling your soul for—as FWD is doing”. In an interview on Bloomberg West, I said Zuckerberg should start doing things for the community rather than always acting out of self-interest.
That is exactly what Zuckerberg is now doing. He is making a genuine effort to change public opinion and create a groundswell of support for comprehensive immigration reform. And Green seems to be working to include the larger community. At the event where this documentary was screened this week was a rare combination of people from the tech community as well as DREAMers, day laborers, and elected officials.
Zuckerberg said he had come to realize the importance of this cause after meeting students at Menlo Park high school who told him they were undocumented and worried about their future. “We talk about high-skilled H1-Bs and full comprehensive immigration reform as if they are two separate issues”, Zuckerberg said. He concluded, rightly, that “the children of immigrants become the next generation of entrepreneurs”.
Another Silicon Valley luminary supporting the cause of DREAMers is Lauren Powell Jobs. Whereas her late husband, Steve Jobs, would not take a public stand on such issues, she spoke passionately about it in a discussion we had at the 2013 Milken Institute Global Conference. She told me that what had motivated her to get involved was the time she had spent with DREAMers—understanding their potential and witnessing their hardships.
All of us in America need to take a cue from Zuckerberg and Jobs. We should speak up about this injustice and cause our political leaders to take action to approve comprehensive immigration reform. This can’t wait. We have a generation of Americans who could be contributing to this nation’s success.
Watch the video below to understand the story of another American child that is being denied his rights.