FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration reform group, hosts first standalone Boston event

ThinkFWD

FWD.us, the immigration reform non-profit started by Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and a host of other Silicon Valley heavyweights, will be hosting its first event in Boston tomorrow evening, a discussion entitled “The Future of Talent.”

The panel will focus on the changing face of the American workforce and how to keep the U.S. competitive in a the larger global economy.

Tuesday night’s ThinkFWD, as the panel series has been dubbed, will be taking place at Microsoft NERD in Kendall Square at 6:30 p.m., and will feature Daniel Koh, the chief of staff to Mayor Martin Walsh; Greg Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic development for Massachusetts; Harvard Professor of Economics Ed Glaeser; and Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT. FWD.us executive director Todd Schulte will be moderating the panel.

FWD.us, while pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, hasn’t been immune from a fair amount of criticism. Both Pandodaily and ValleyWag have targeted the organization for various reasons.

Pando took aim at FWD.us affiliate’s early campaign ads that supported the Keystone XL Pipeline and other initiatives that seemed to run opposite the of the liberal ethos of Silicon Valley, lobbying which might have lead to the loss of support from the politically influential Elon Musk.

One of the other main critiques of the organization revolves around FWD.us, “playing both sides” of the immigration reform debate, as a bipartisan tech lobby that is “Machiavellan” in nature. The reason for the criticism stems from how the organization was originally set up.

Founder Joe Green created FWD.us as an organization with both a conservative arm and a progressive arm. The 501(c)(4) is structured with two affiliates, the conservative Americans for Conservative Direction and the liberal Council for American Job Growth, covering the different ends of political spectrum.

Kate Hansen, the communications director for FWD.us, said that since the initial blowback from the early affiliate ads, FWD.us has tried to focus its message (and that of its affiliates) on the comprehensive piece. “90 percent of the ads we’ve run have all been about immigration reform and the need for it,” she said.

“Some of the confusion has been over the fact that we are not an ‘industry’ group,” Hansen said. “Some of our founders are high profile, they are strongly associated with the companies that they have founded or are the head of, but they’ve actually all donated in their capacity as individuals.”

Although their is a wide array of other criticism of FWD.us, including some cynical commentary that the entire endeavor is a backchannel way for the tech industry import lower wage workers, the organization has already made some positive inroads in its short history.

With the recent news of Governor Deval Patrick pushing for a unique foreign worker visa program as part of his announcement to end non-competes in the state, Massachusetts is ahead of the curve in trying to keep skilled, intelligent employees working for local technology and biotech companies.

Welcoming FWD.us, and helping  to change immigration rules on the national level, seems to add to the progress Patrick is pushing for on the issue.

Championing a cause to keep American at the bleeding edge of innovation is something that Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on. Expect some of Boston’s most influential tech leaders to be in attendance for tomorrow’s ThinkFWD event.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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