Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration-reform advocacy group, FWD.us, was the subject of a three-thousand-word profile by Issie Lapowski in Wired Sunday. The headline-grabber is the rather obvious, though important, news that Donald Trump’s candidacy has solidified support for the group in Silicon Valley and shifted it from an organization that aimed at bipartisanship to one increasingly in the Democratic camp. But the more interesting, more depressing, take-away is just how conventional the policies pushed by so many innovators are.
FWD.us has backed some good ideas (like the entrepreneur’s visa) and some very bad ones (like the expansion of the H-1B visa program). But the heart of what they are advocating for now is a 1986-style enforcement-for-amnesty deal. This did not work the last time around: illegal crossings were back up to pre-deal levels within a year and continued to be a major problem thereafter, while another generation and a half of illegal immigrants grew up and lived in the shadows. The head of FWD.us speaks movingly to Wired about the younger members of that generation, but neither he nor anyone else has persuasively argued why essentially repeating that bill would change the outcome. Rather, it seems likely that another failed amnesty deal would prompt a flood of increased illegal immigration to the U.S. and a backlash that would dwarf the Trump phenomenon and likely endanger continued legal immigration. It’s not that nothing needs to be done, but it’s maddening—and incongruous—to watch the founder of Facebook and other Silicon Valley mavens embrace the political equivalent of Betamax, a failed idea from decades ago.
There are two stories here. One concerns Silicon Valley. It won’t surprise longtime followers of Valley politics to learn that most of the blowback to FWD.us within the tech community came not from immigration opponents but from those who opposed getting involved with the “transactional nature” of politics at all. At one point, this was the dominant strain of political thinking (in the broadest possible sense) in the Valley: the power of the tech revolution would move us beyond the messy, imperfect solutions involved in politics. Walter Russell Mead chronicled the decline of this kind of techno-utopianism here. The next stage in the Valley’s political thinking amounts to the embrace, for social and short-term political reasons, of a major political party bound to outmoded Blue Model policies that are at odds in the long-term with the needs of the tech age. Zuck and the other tech titans seem aware of the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and other Industrial Age titans who did not merely transform U.S. industry, but left significant philanthropic and political legacies. If they want to measure up to these forebears, the Silicon Valley types are going to have to dig deeper and engage more seriously with both politics and the changes they have wrought upon the country than this.
The second is a political story. Todd Schulte, who’s running the show at FWD.us, was formerly the chief of staff at Priorities USA, President Obama’s Super PAC. It is therefore perhaps not too surprising to see the immigration Super PAC exhibiting hallmarks of the Obama years: a slick, modern aesthetic, but underneath, box-standard Blue Model thinking unchanged since the last generation, and a heavy (and more often than not quite successful) emphasis on politics, with real governing solutions coming second.
The current Democratic approach to immigration is a case in point. The push for “comprehensive immigration reform” has been great politics: if it were ever achieved, it could help cement Democratic majorities (or so the thinking goes), while in the meantime it provokes a Trump-like reaction from part of the right that drives both the center and the #NeverTrump right toward the Democrats. But the cost in terms of polarization and national comity is enormous—including to immigrants’ chances of being accepted. And if a “comprehensive” bill passes Congress and then fails in action, this would all get much much worse.
Yes, the Right bears blame for this too. But the Left is heading into what’s likely to be its ninth to twelfth years in office. Would it be too much to ask for some serious thought to be given toward long-term governing solutions, rather than just short-term political games?