A roomful of youthful programmers -- all of them undocumented citizens -- listened closely last night as notable Silicon Valley visionaries offered their support for immigration reform.
Industry leaders including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (center), and Dropbox founder Drew Houston will personally consult with the teams as they spend 24 hours building prototypes for advocacy tools to help advance meaningful immigration reform
FWD.us, the hackathon's host, is an organization promoting better policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy -- including comprehensive immigration and education reform.
Speaking last night at the hackathon kickoff at LinkedIn's Mountain View, Calif., campus Zuckerberg boldly declared, "I think this is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time."
FWD.us believes the United States is falling behind other countries, failing to educate and retain tech-savvy workers. Hiring of the best and brightest is essential, and FWD.us wants to advocate for education reforms that produce more advanced degree graduates in the science, technology, and math fields.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, far left, gives guidance to one of the teams.
FWD.us founder Joe Green (standing) previously founded two successful community organizing and cause leadership sites, Causes and NationBuilder, to empower people to organize around important social issues.
The coders at the FWD.us Hackathon at LinkedIn will work straight through for 24 hours, ending around 5 p.m. on Thursday. “People would be shocked by what you can accomplish in 24 hours,” said Dropbox founder Drew Houston (standing).
“I think our friends in Washington could take note of that,” he said.
UnheardVoices, one of the code teams participating in the hackathon, is an online space where communities are able to share videos, pictures, and vote to show support for a trending piece. UnheardVoices says they use humor as a tool to raise awareness of a need for immigration reform.
Working together, the "DREAMers," mentors, and founders will help showcase the incredible promise of America's future innovators in tech, underscoring the critical contributions immigrants -- and particularly DREAMers -- are already making to our economy and our country.
LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman (center) told the room that immigration is an important issue for the future of the United States, but also critical to our identity and our past.
According to Hoffman, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a first- or second-generation immigrant as one of their founders, amounting to trillions of dollars in revenue. "These things matter," he said.
Mark Zuckerberg visited Washington in September on behalf of FWD.us, pressing Congress to support an overhaul of immigration policy. The last time a major immigration reform law was passed, says FWD.us founder Joe Green, was in 1986, before many of the Hackathon participants were even born.
Luis Aguilar, 25, from Falls Church, Va., speaks at the opening of the FWD.us Hackathon at the LinkedIn offices in Mountain View, Calif. Aguilar immigrated to the United States at the age of 9 from Mexico, and has taught himself how to code using online classes and tutorials.
Aguilar says immigration reform means justice and dignity for the 11 million aspiring Americans in the United States and the opportunity to see his father, who was deported from the United States when Aguilar was 15, and whom he hasn't seen since.
The UnheardVoices team has a little rally following a moving speech by Sarahi Espinoza, who had to stop attending school in order to care for her father, who was ill with cancer. Espinoza made it back to school, and now attends Cañada College, and has created her own Web site, Sarahi.tv, where she hopes to inspire other young people to go back to college regardless of their circumstances.
When her Web developer stopped replying to assist her, Espinoza took matters into her own hands and taught herself how to code. She hopes immigration reform will mean she can be reunited with her mother, who returned to Mexico to petition entry into the US through the legal system and has been stuck in limbo for eight years.
Reid Hoffman gives advice to one of the teams at the FWD.us Hackathon for immigration reform at the LinkedIn campus in Mountain View, Calif.
Hoffman said that when the FWD.us team was thinking about what kinds of things would encapsulate the identity, morality, and economics of what is important to immigration reform, a hackathon was the obvious choice.
It is the notion, Hoffman said, that "this is what it is to be an American. I can improve my life, I can improve what is possible, and I can do it by thinking about business to start. This is one of the things that is very core to our American identity."