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As Conversation Shifts, Zuckerberg’s Immigration Group Changes Tactics

Fwd.us, the well-funded immigration advocacy group launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2013, is revamping its message in the midst of a presidential campaign that has seen the pendulum abruptly swing the other way on the issue.

After a year in which Donald Trump and other presidential candidates have significantly changed the tenor of the conversation around immigration policy, the pro-immigration group Fwd.us suddenly finds itself taking on a different fight.

But the organization, started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg nearly three years ago, isn’t shying away from its original mission: to get the United States to pass comprehensive immigration reform, improve the education system, and increase funding for scientific research and advancements in technology. And Fwd.us is using this ambitious agenda in its fight to give 11.3 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

Earlier this month the group launched the first part of a six-part video series on the issue, 11 Million Stories, that ponders the costs of removing that many undocumented immigrants from the United States and imagines what a “deportation force” like that suggested by Trump and supported by fellow candidate Rick Santorum would look like.

The clip features a number of actors, including some who have previously entered the conversation about immigration, illustrating what could potentially happen to undocumented immigrants and to the nation’s economy if the United States adopted a mass-deportation policy. Sophie Cruz, age 6, first came into the public eye in September, when she handed a letter to Pope Francis during his visit to Washington, DC. Cruz, a Los Angeles resident and citizen by birth whose parents are both undocumented immigrants, became the subject of the second video, released last week.

The approach the group is taking is designed to emphasize to the public what a hard-line policy like that being recommended by some of the Republican presidential candidates represents.

“We are trying to draw a line in the sand for those for and against mass deportation,” Fwd.us spokesman Michael Rekola told The Washington Post in a statement. “We are on the side of any politician against mass deportation who wants to present a serious solution to fixing our broken immigration system.”

New Landscape, New Strategy

The shift in strategy comes as part of a redoubling of efforts on the immigration issue. While the nonprofit had some initial success in advocating for immigration reform in the Senate in 2013, efforts stalled in the House, which at the time was the only chamber controlled by Republicans.

Some of Fwd.us’ concerns were addressed by President Obama’s pair of executive actions on immigration last year, though thoseĀ have been blocked by a series of court rulings.

But the group’s inability to push through a reform bill, despite $50 million in initial funding, led some media outlets to suggest Fwd.us’ efforts had stalled as far back as June 2014.

And all of this was before Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, initially driven by his tough immigration stance, gained traction with a swath of Republican voters. But on the other hand, the popularity of the anti-immigration message is creating a new target for Fwd.us. While the group says it doesn’t plan to support or oppose any individual candidate during 2016, it says it will promote a constant message throughout the election year.

“We are making the case over the next year that immigration reform needs to be something that gets done right away under the next presidency,” Fwd.us President Todd Schulte told NPR earlier this month. “That starts with making clear the awful and absurd policies of mass deportation that we’re hearing.”

The Hill reports that Fwd.us will spend as much as $10 million on advertising and research, with the ultimate goal of getting immigration reform passed in 2017.

The group has a variety of major donors. Beyond Zuckerberg, who recently announced he will give away much of his wealth to philanthropic organizations, the group counts Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Microsoft Cofounder Bill Gates on its donor rolls.

Sophie Cruz, left, has become the 6-year-old "face" of Fwd.us' latest campaign. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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