Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is squaring off against Donald Trump in a battle of the billionaires on immigration. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg couldn’t have chosen worse grounds on which to fight. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Fwd.us, a group founded by Mr. Zuckerberg and others to lobby for issues issues important to the tech industry such as immigration reform, Wednesday argued in favor of increasing, not decreasing, the number of H-1B visas. Silicon Valley companies rely on the visas to bring in foreign engineers. Such a move would be beneficial to the U.S. economy, Fwd.us President Todd Schulte wrote in a blog post.[…]
Mr. Schulte was responding to Mr. Trump’s immigration plan, released Sunday. Mr. Trump said foreign workers are using the H-1B program to take jobs away from Americans, and he wants to raise the wages paid to H-1B holders to make it less attractive to employers. Mr. Trump named Mr. Zuckerberg in his plan.
This kind of response to Trump only underlines the failures of both sides of the immigration debate. As TAI Staff Writer Nicholas M. Gallagher explained in his insightful column on Thursday (if you haven’t read it, do):
Both parties have botched the case for increased legal immigration. Business-friendly Republicans have allowed it to be sullied by supporting measures like the H-1B and H-2 visas, which tie the visas of foreign workers to their employers. If workers holding these visas quit, or are fired, they have to leave the country. As I’ve written before, these visas hit the trifecta of bad policy: they’re used to displace American workers at cheaper rates, they facilitate exploitation of the immigrants in question, and they deprive the national economy of the full dynamism unfettered immigrants offer. Such measures divert political momentum from healthy reform and confirm the worst suspicions of the antis.
Zuckerberg isn’t a Republican, but that critique also applies to business-friendly immigration advocates like the Facebook founder. The optics on this are terrible. Trump’s message is that immigration is a con game rigged by big business and government against the little guy and Silicon Valley billionaires have chosen to respond by doubling down on support for the very visa type that, certifiably, really does hurt the little guy. As they say on Sports Center: Are you kidding me?
The shame of Fwd.us’ response is that Trump’s plan really is vulnerable to attack on so many other fronts, particularly from a group with resources to match his. And, what’s more, there are some really good ideas in the Fwd.us plan, including long-overdue recognition of the role start-ups play in American business in the 21st century. But in order to be able to make good policy, you first have to win the messaging battle—and, here, the old-school carnival barker is schooling the social media guru.