Immigration reform is front and center for tech sector — and Obama

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What would you do if the CEO of your startup was stopped at the airport because of a mixup on his travel documents, arrested, shackled, put in a van and shipped off to a jail in another state? Don’t scoff. It just happened just to an unnamed tech exec affiliated with TechStars Boston.

This exec, who was stopped coming into the country at Boston’s Logan Airport because of an inconsistency of his title on a document,  was able to get one message out to a colleague before the chains went on. The tech community network was tapped, a “war room” was assembled where 5 people called lawyers and politicians, said Reed Sturtevant, an entrepreneur and investor recounted the tale at TechStars Boston Demo Day on Wednesday.  “After a lot of work from these people, after two nights in jail, this founder was released and is back at work,” said Sturtevant, obviously emotional about the experience.

Sturtevant then introduced Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum who spoke of the need for real immigration reform, not just for the foreign-born PhDs, engineers, and blue-collar workers affected but also for the sake of law enforcement officials and for the business community that needs fresh ideas and talent at all levels.

Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum speaking at TechStars Boston Demo Day.

Noorani’s organization is trying to build consensus with constituencies that might surprise onlookers — law enforcement agencies and religious organizations. “Our theory is if you hold a Bible, wear a badge or own a business, you want a common-sense solution,” he said.

His organization has won support among southern Baptist churches in Missouri, from anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who wants police to “chase murderers, not landscapers and nannies,”  Noorani said.

This is a timely topic. Earlier in the day, at his first press conference since re-election,  President Barack Obama stressed the need for reform and said the public will is there for it now. The strong turnout of Latino voters has already encouraged some Republicans to reconsider their hardline stance about immigration, he said. (As a refresher,  Republican nominee Mitt Romney had been a pragmatist on immigration before taking a hard right., Romney suggested that illegal residents  “self-deport” as part of the process of gaining legal status.)

In the past, Senator John McCain and former President George W. Bush, also supported immigration reform, evidence that this was not always a partisan issue. Now with so many votes at stake, the president thinks Republicans will be motivated to support change. “We need to seize the moment,” Obama said.

In addition, the president said:

“I am a believer that if you’ve got a PhD in physics, or computer science who wants to stay here, and start a business here, we shouldn’t make it harder for them to stay here, we should try to encourage him to contribute to this society. I think that the agricultural sector, obviously has very specific concerns about making sure that they’ve got a workforce that helps deliver food to our table. So there’re gonna be a bunch of components to it, but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security’s strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for the undocumented here, needs to deal with the DREAM Act kids.”

The Washington Post has the full transcript of the presidential press conference.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user DIAC Images

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