Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s allies are doubling down on his immigration advocacy push, creating a new group that will highlight immigrant success stories.
Zuckerberg’s associates will announce on Wednesday the creation of a new non-profit group dubbed Welcome.us, according to a release shared with Fusion. The push comes as the chances appear bleak for an immigration bill to pass Congress this year. Many activists have instead turned their attention to President Obama, demanding that he ease the record pace of deportations under his watch.
As a non-profit, Welcome.us is barred from political activity unlike its cohort group, FWD.us. Officials from Welcome.us said it is designed to create a positive image for immigrants by emphasizing immigrant contributions to the U.S., and not to weigh in on policy debates.
“Our goal is to encourage as many Americans as possible to tell their own welcome story,” said Tolu Olubunmi, a Nigerian-American immigrant activist who was tapped as the group’s executive director. “Our history and stories will help determine our future – at Welcome.us, we want everyone here to be a part of that effort.”
Even if the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not vote on a bill this year, the group’s work could help reform backers, “win the cultural argument that’s at the heart of the issue,” according to Frank Sharry, a veteran immigration reform advocate who is not involved with Welcome.us.
“It’s hard for people to get to the right place on policy if they don’t like the people that are being talked about,” said Sharry, executive director of the advocacy group America’s Voice. “The idea of seeing more immigrants as ‘us’ creates more space and intensity for supporting policy change.”
Welcome.us is designating June as “Immigrant Heritage Month,” during which it will hold events and share stories that highlight the nation’s immigrant roots. Fusion will create special content to coincide with the month as well.
“The United States has a proud history of welcoming immigrants; it’s part of what defines the greatness of our country,” Joe Green, chairman of Welcome.us and a co-founder of FWD.us said in a statement. “Welcome.us celebrates that history — as well as our present and future — as a nation fueled by immigrants from around the world.”
When Zuckerberg first entered the immigration debate in 2013 with FWD.us, some advocates worried about his dedication to the issue outside of pushing for expanded tech worker visas. But Sharry said his group’s level of spending and work with undocumented advocates has shown a broad commitment.
“I’ve gone from being skeptical to being a fan,” he said.
Welcome.us released a list nine Democratic congressmen who were named as its host committee. The panel includes Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.), who both serve in House Democratic leadership.
More than two dozen advocates, business leaders and celebrities were selected as honorary board members, including Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, actor and former Obama administration official Kal Penn, music mogul Russell Simmons, singer Michael Bolton, undocumented activist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas and Zuckerberg.
Members of the host committee and honorary board will participate in Immigrant Heritage Month events next month.