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November 2013

Young Immigrants Write Software to Highlight Lack of Legal Status


November 21, 2013

Can 20 young programmers, all of them brought to the United States illegally as children, hack an immigration overhaul out of its deep freeze in Congress?

Probably not. But they’re sure going to try.

On Wednesday afternoon, the men and women, all in their late teens and twenties, convened at the Silicon Valley headquarters of LinkedIn, the business-oriented social network, for a 25-hour “hackathon” to develop software applications to spotlight the challenges faced by the nation’s roughly 11 million illegal immigrants and help push stalled immigration legislation. A wide-ranging bill has passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but has made little progress in the Republican-led House of Representatives., the Washington-based advocacy group that organized the event, also brought in some of its star backers to inspire and advise the programmers during the marathon. The luminaries included Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and co-founder of Facebook; Reid Hoffman, chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn; Drew Houston, chief executive and co-founder of Dropbox; and Andrew Mason, former chief executive and co-founder of Groupon. (Employees of the sponsoring companies are also assisting.)

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, on Wednesday at the hackathon at LinkedIn's headquarters.Peter DaSilva for The New York Times Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, on Wednesday at the hackathon at LinkedIn’s headquarters.

“We are at a critical point in the movement where it’s really important to keep pushing ahead,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in opening remarks to the group. “I think this is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time.”

Mr. Hoffman noted that dreamers — immigrants and their children — have always been responsible for a large percentage of new businesses and new jobs created. “This is one of the things that is very core to our American identity,” he said.

The term dreamers also has a particular meaning in the immigration debate. The word is often used to refer to people who were brought to the United States illegally as young children, grew up here and consider themselves Americans. Last year, President Obama issued an administrative order that temporarily halted deportation proceedings for hundreds of thousands of such immigrants and allowed them to apply to legally work in the United States.

The energy of the young programmers at the hackathon was infectious, and their personal stories were certainly moving.

Sarahi Espinoza, 24, a Mexican immigrant who came to the San Francisco Bay Area with her family in her teens, was putting herself through community college when her father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She said she dropped out of school and became a nanny to support him until he died in 2011. (Ms. Espinoza’s mother has been been back in Mexico for eight years to improve her own chances of winning legal status.)

Ms. Espinoza has taught herself to code and is now back in college while also working, legally, for the Girl Scouts of America. And on Wednesday, she was part of a team that was developing a comic video app that would allow people to shoot themselves doing something goofy and say “this is less crazy than not passing immigration reform.”

“You don’t want to go on an app and see sad, depressing stories,” Ms. Espinoza said. Instead, her team wanted to tap into the aesthetic of the TV show “Jackass” to draw attention to the issue of overhauling the country’s immigration system while making people laugh.

After listening to the group’s initial project description, Mr. Hoffman said he was looking forward to seeing the results. Comedy is risky, he said in an interview. “It will either work or it won’t work.”

Mr. Hoffman, who is a prominent start-up investor at Greylock Partners, said that by breaking the hackers into nine teams working on different ideas, improved the chances that someone would come up with something great. “One of the things about entrepreneurism is to have multiple shots on goal,” he said.

Other projects include a a visual guide to the challenges faced by illegal immigrants and a map that would show where members of Congress stand on immigration legislation, with a tool to make it easy for their constituents to contact them.

Demonstrations of all nine projects are scheduled to be shown on Thursday evening, with the tech executives and other judges picking the winners. (It will be webcast beginning at 10 p.m. E.S.T.)

“This is hard and nobody’s denying that,” Joe Green, president of, said in an interview. He was talking about overhauling the immigration system, but he might as well have been talking about programming, too.


Teen Immigration Activists Crash John Boehner’s Breakfast

House Speaker John Boehner’s breakfast was interrupted this morning by Carmen Lima, 13, and Jennifer Martinez, 16, two young immigration activists who wanted the powerful congressional leader to hear their families stories of immigration hardship.

Boehner was eating at Pete’s Diner, his regular breakfast place of choice in D.C., when he was approached by the two teens from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a pro-immigration reform group.

Lima explained how she has not seen her deported father since she was 10.

“So how would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of ten that you were never coming home?” Lima asked him in a video posted to YouTube by Change Nation, a branch of the Center for Community Change, which also houses the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

“Well, I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done,” Boehner, R-Ohio,  responded. “It’s, uh, you know, not easy, not going to be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that it’s time to get this done.”

Boehner Predicts Obamacare Will ‘Never’ Work

After Boehner, who was wearing a baseball cap and jeans, politely denied Lima and Martinez’s invitation to share a table for breakfast, the two girls told the congressman their families’ stories as he sat at the diner’s counter and was served his first meal of the day.

Despite the congressman’s words, progress may be slower than these immigration advocates and their supporters hope. At a post-breakfast news conference at the Capitol, Boehner told reporters, “We’ve made it clear that we’re going to move on a common-sense step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration.”

But  the immigration overhaul bill that passed the Senate earlier this year might not be going anywhere in the House. “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters.

Donna De La Cruz, deputy communications director of the Center for Community Change, told ABC News that they support the Senate bill while possibly shortening the timeline for a pathway to citizenship.

Senate Republicans Block Another Obama Nominee to D.C. Circuit Court

“We would like to see more than just words,” De La Cruz said. “We would like him to actually bring it to the floor. I mean, it’s one thing to say it, but we would really want this brought to the floor this year.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also responded via Twitter this morning to Boehner’s breakfast comments that overhaul is “not easy.”

“Actually it is easy, @SpeakerBoehner,” Pelosi tweeted. “With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 Rs vowing support, we have the votes to pass #immigration reform.”

Actually it is easy, @SpeakerBoehner. With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 Rs vowing support, we have the votes to pass #immigrationreform.

— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) November 13, 2013

More than 40 children, including Carmen and Jennifer, are in D.C. this week for events organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, including a procession to the Capitol. The group requested a meeting with Speaker Boehner, but was denied.

“The kids just really wanted to talk to him,” De La Cruz said, “and tell him their stories.”

ABC News’ John Parkinson contributed to this report.

Immigration activists occupy congressman’s Bakersfield office

By Kate Linthicum (The LA Times)

November 7, 2013, 11:33 a.m.

A sit-in organized by immigration activists inside the Bakersfield office of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy went deep into the night Wednesday, prompting a police response and, near midnight, a personal visit from the congressman.

About a dozen activists showed up at McCarthy’s office at noon Wednesday and said they would not leave until McCarthy, the third-most powerful House Republican, signed a pledge to bring to a vote a bill that would grant a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without permission.

McCarthy has been the target of months of intense protest by immigrant and labor groups. During the August congressional recess, roughly 1,000 marchers from across California converged on his district office, located in a sun-baked strip mall in central Bakersfield.

McCarthy says he agrees that changes need to be made to the nation’s immigration system, but he doesn’t support a single, comprehensive bill like the one passed by the Senate. That bill would allow immigrants who came to the country illegally to apply for citizenship, so long as they meet certain requirements.

Instead, McCarthy and the rest of the House GOP leadership want to take up a series of smaller bills, including some measures focused on better securing the border.

The protesters in his office on Wednesday were repeatedly asked to leave by McCarthy’s staff, but they refused. At about 5 p.m. police were called in. Officers escorted out the staff members.

The activists told police they would not leave until McCarthy, who was in town for a meeting, came to the office, according to Maria Machuca, a spokeswoman for the United Farm Workers.

Shortly after 11 p.m., the McCarthy arrived and talked to protesters for about 30 minutes, after which they agreed to leave, Machuca said.

But the meeting does not appear to have changed McCarthy’s mind on immigration legislation. A spokesman the congressman issued a statement Thursday that said the lawmaker “will continue to listen to his constituents — and not the protests and threats of outside special interest groups — as he works with his House colleagues towards a step-by-step approach.”

“Their intent instead was to disrupt the activities and services of the office,” said the statement by McCarthy spokesman Mike Long. “Congressman McCarthy has met with these groups and has listened to their arguments, and it is unfortunate that these groups have resorted to these type of tactics, during, and long after, business hours.”

The protesters, who were all female, were not all U.S. citizens, according to Machuca. The group included Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, as well as a daughter of famed labor leader Dolores Huerta.

Machuca said the activists are already planning more protests. “We’re not going to take no for an answer,” she said.

Immigrationomics: Why the CEO of the U.S.’s Largest Hispanic Company Wants Reform

Power Players

When Jose Mas’ father emigrated from Cuba to the United States in 1959, he got his start working odd end jobs before opening a construction company that has grown to be the largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States.

But the opportunity to live out the American dream as his father did, Mas told “Power Players,” is being denied to the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States without legal documentation.

“When you look at some of the things that people do to cross the borders … they’re risking their lives day in and day out not for a handout but for an opportunity to build a life that’s better than what they can achieve where they are,” Mas said.

Mas, who is a U.S. citizen by birth, is a member of the Republican Party. But he disagrees with the GOP’s broad opposition to immigration reform.

“I’m fiscally conservative,” Mas said. “But when it comes to a lot of the social justice issues as a party, immigration is one of many things … that I think is negatively affecting the Republican Party not just here but everywhere.”

Now the CEO of MasTec Inc., the business his father began, Mas responded to the opposition argument that business owners like himself only want immigration reform in order to have access to the cheap labor of foreign workers, calling it “ridiculous.”

“I’m at a disadvantage to that small business that’s taking advantage of the system,” said Mas. “That one employer that’s out there who’s not paying his employees correctly … can go out and they can out price me any day of the week, so the people that are doing it right aren’t benefitting from the system.”

In addition to his hope that immigration reform would regulate business management, he argues that it would also aid the American taxpayer.

He went on to say that many of those living in the country, such as those working in construction and agriculture labor, without a legal immigration status want to pay into the system, but “we’re not allowing them.”

“Most of that work is being done by immigrants today,” Mas said. “So why not create a process where they are paying taxes which they want? They don’t want to be here hiding, having to cheat the government. Let them pay taxes let them pay into the system let them contribute into that system, and let them be part of our communities.”

To hear more of the interview with Mas, and the story of how his family’s business grew from humble beginnings to a Fortune 1000 company and leading member of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Serena Marshall, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Dale West and Joe Biscotti contributed to this episode.

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