Technology

GOP’s courtship of Silicon Valley put to the test in immigration fight

Republicans should prepare for a frosty reception during their next visit to Silicon Valley if they’re seen as the main obstacle to immigration reform, sources in the tech world say.

{mosads}Industry insiders are watching the congressional battle over immigration reform closely, as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other titans of the tech world work to protect key provisions in the Senate bill.

The tech industry got almost all of what it wanted from the Senate, and is on the verge of a major victory — as long as its priorities reach President Obama’s desk.

The biggest stumbling block appears to be the House GOP’s resistance to a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, something supporters of reform consider a must for the bill.

If the bill dies over citizenship — and there was growing pessimism in Washington this week on immigration largely because of that issue — Republicans could be set up to take the blame.

“I think for the [House] Republican leadership in particular, people in the Valley would say, ‘How could you let this fail? We needed this,’” said one tech lobbyist.
 
“It would be a very different reception for them in the Valley if they were to go out there without having been able to accomplish this, which is an item high on the priority list for Silicon Valley, and it’s seen as doable,” the lobbyist added.

The hard feelings would come at a terrible time for Republicans, who are seeking to make inroads with Silicon Valley — and with its deep-pocketed donors.

House Republican “Young Guns” Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) have made pilgrimages to Facebook, Google and other top companies to meet with industry leaders, bask in the entrepreneurial culture and notch “cool points” for the party brand.
 
Along the way, they’ve banked hefty sums from a region that had long been a stronghold for Democrats.
 
But industry insiders say the budding relationship between the Grand Ole Party and the Next Big Thing could hit the skids over immigration reform.
 
One of the companies with a major stake in the outcome of the immigration push is Facebook, which has rolled out the red carpet for Republicans during their trips to the Valley.  

The company’s political action committee (PAC) has showered more than $100,000 in campaign cash on members of Congress this year, with contributions going to Cantor, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and leading Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is also tapping his vast personal fortune to win passage of a bill that would help his company hire more foreign-born talent.

Zuckerberg has marshaled tech executives behind FWD.us, a new lobbying organization that’s dedicated to passing comprehensive immigration reform. The group boasts an A-list roster of tech donors, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and investor John Doerr.
 
The new group has already shown it’s willing to shell out cash to defend members of either party who are willing to take a political risk on immigration.

FWD.us ran ads supporting Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that touted their conservative bona fides. The ads for Begich and Graham noted their backing for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, infuriating green groups that had seen themselves as tech industry allies.
 
“Tech has sort of stuck its neck out on getting immigration done and getting it done in this Congress,” said a tech insider.

The industry has labored for years to win changes to the immigration rules for highly skilled and educated foreign workers. Specifically, tech companies have pressed lawmakers to free up more green cards and increase the annual H-1B visa cap for skilled foreign workers.

Tech executives say passing immigration reform is key to helping America’s boom industry hire top talent and keep foreign graduates from leaving the U.S. after earning advanced technical degrees. Companies say they have thousands of job openings that they cannot fill because the U.S. isn’t producing enough graduates with advanced skills.

The immigration bill that passed out of the Senate last month largely addressed the industry’s concerns, putting them one step closer to their goals.
 
The path forward in the House is still unclear, however, even after the GOP conference met for over two hours on Wednesday to cull feedback from members. One of the options up for consideration is to bring a set of piecemeal immigration bills from the House Judiciary Committee to the floor.
 
One of those bills includes a proposal from tech industry champion Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would set aside 55,000 green cards for foreign graduates with advanced degrees in technical fields and raise the annual H-1B visa cap to 155,000.

The bill is modeled after another high-skilled immigration measure from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that passed the House last year.
 
While lobbyists for the tech industry say the Valley’s relationship with GOP leaders might face a setback if immigration reform stalls in the House, they’re quick to say it won’t be irreparably damaged.

Patent, copyright and tax reform are other key issues that tech companies are looking to work with lawmakers on before the end of the year, and progress will require buy-in from both sides of the Capitol, they say.

“I don’t know if it will help the relationship, but I don’t think it will be a death knell,” a tech lobbyist said.
 
“People will share that frustration, but I don’t think it will be a chilling effect on the relationship in Washington.”
 
Still, lobbyists say Republicans will have some explaining to do if immigration efforts run aground in the House.
 
“I think there will be some level of frustration obviously because the tech industry has tried pretty aggressively to get immigration moving,” the tech insider said.

Tags Boehner Eric Cantor John Boehner Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mark Begich Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan

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