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Hackathon puts immigration reform in the spotlight

Teams consult with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and other Silicon Valley visionaries at the FWD.us DREAMer Hackathon.

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James Martin
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Reid Hoffman speaks to one of the programming teams at the FWD.us DREAMer Hackathon. James Martin/CNET
A roomful of youthful programmers -- all of them undocumented citizens -- listened closely Wednesday night as notable Silicon Valley visionaries offered their support for immigration reform.

Industry leaders including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Dropbox founder Drew Houston, are personally consulting with the teams as they spend 24 hours building prototypes for advocacy tools to help advance meaningful immigration reform -- something FWD.us believes is long overdue.

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.

FWD.us says the United States is falling behind other countries because it's failing to educate and retain tech-savvy workers. Believing that successful hiring of the best and brightest is essential, FWD.us is advocating for education reforms that produce more advanced degree graduates in the science, technology, and math fields.

FWD.us hosts hackathon for immigration reform (pictures)

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Speaking last night at the hackathon kickoff at LinkedIn's Mountain View, Calif., campus, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg boldly declared, "I think this is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time."

LinkedIn's Hoffman said that when the FWD.us team was thinking about what kinds of things would encapsulate the identity, morality, and economics trifecta 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."

The coders at the FWD.us DREAMer Hackathon at LinkedIn will work straight through for 24 hours, ending today around 5 p.m.

"People would be shocked by what you can accomplish in 24 hours," said Dropbox's Houston.

"I think our friends in Washington could take note of that," he said.