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Facebook, LinkedIn Founders Sponsoring ‘Hackathon’ for Undocumented Tech Workers

Tim Sprinkle
The Exchange
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg smiles in an onstage interview for the Atlantic Magazine in Washington, September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Silicon Valley execs often complain that outdated U.S. immigration policies are holding back technological innovation.

Next month, several of them are joining forces to do something about it.

Facebook (FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn (LNKD) founder Reid Hoffman, Dropbox founder Drew Houston and former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, among other tech world luminaries, are set to host a “hackathon” – a “time-honored Valley tech tradition” that involves tossing a bunch of programmers, designers, engineers and others into a room together to collaborate on new products -- at LinkedIn’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarter on Nov. 20-21. The twist? This hackathon will focus exclusively on “dreamers” -- undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

“Congress had the budget and government shutdown stuff but we want to return the nation’s attention to immigration reform,” FWD.us founder and president Joe Green told Buzzfeed on Friday. “It has bipartisan support, it’s a win-win issue for the economy, for families and for our country.”

FWD.us, the event backer, was founded by the U.S. tech community in April 2013 in an effort to address a long-standing problem among Silicon Valley firms: the inability to hire talented workers from overseas, in part because of outdated H-1B visa requirements. Zuckerberg is the organization’s primary sponsor, but its roster includes a who’s who of technology players, including Microsoft (MSFT) founder Bill Gates, former Facebook president Sean Parker and many others.

Best of all for event attendees, Zuckerberg and the others will be in attendance, hacking away on projects just like everyone else.

“This will help people have a more tangible understanding of what a great experience tech can be and how cool it can be to build things and make it more exciting to study computer science and be on that path to engineering,” said Dropbox founder Drew Houston.

Zuckerberg and Co. likely face an uphill battle when it comes to reigniting the debate over immigration reform, however. Given the recent government shutdown and the budget battles still raging in Washington, immigration has been pushed to the back burner for legislators.

Besides, compromise just isn’t in the air right now, according to Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). There’s too much bad blood left over from the recent government funding fight.

"For us to go to a negotiation, to the negotiating table with President Obama after what he has done over the last two and a half weeks, I think would be probably a very big mistake," Labrador told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.