Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Michael Bolton, Jared Leto, others lend names to immigration cause

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Here’s a brainteaser: What do 90’s crooner Michael Bolton, Oscar winner Jared Leto and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have in common?

All are honorary board members for Welcome.us, a new non-profit promoting immigrants and their stories.

The group, which launched its site today, was conceived by the same people behind FWD.us, a pro-immigration lobbying group bankrolled by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

But while FWD.us has come under criticism for its political tactics, Welcome.us said it will not engage in lobbying efforts. Instead, it’s taking a kinder, gentler approach that will have some of the biggest names in entertainment promoting a positive message: immigrants come to the US for a better life.

“Welcome.us is a brand-new, non-political organization that is focused on helping as many Americans reconnect with and celebrate their immigrant heritage,” said executive director Tolu Olubunmi, who emigrated from Nigeria as a teen.

This latest campaign comes as time runs out for immigration reform to pass this year in Congress.

Emily Lam of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group — one of Welcome.us’s partner organizations and the trade group for companies such as Google and Yahoo —  said immigration reform has been stalled in Congress since last summer in large part because politicians from some southern and midwestern states are worried about constituent backlash.

"So if people’s attitudes change about who are immigrants and what immigration reform would do for Americans then I think that pressure will start to ease off of the legislator," Lam said.

Other honorary board members:

  • Entertainment: actor Jamie Lee Curtis; magician David Blaine; hip hop mogul Russell Simmons
  • Tech: Hosain Rahman, CEO and founder of Jawbone; Ruchi Sanghvi, vice president at Dropbox
  • Immigration advocates: Jose Antonio Vargas; Ali Noorani, head of the National Immigration Forum.

Olubunmi said the group came together organically, with many members joining after hearing about its mission by word-of-mouth.

The members' combined social media clout — Jared Leto, alone, has nearly 1.8 million followers on Twitter — could come in handy as the non-profit tries to orchestrate the launch of the first-ever Immigrant Heritage Month.

"Since everybody has a little bit of a different base, perhaps they can bring attention to it in a different realm," Lam said.

But at least one critic of comprehensive immigration reform said the campaign was overly simplistic by focusing on immigrant success stories.

“Frankly, the successful immigrant entrepreneur tells us no more about immigration policy than the immigrant welfare case or the immigrant criminal,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Welcome.us is still getting its sea legs. Its website is populated with more photos of board members than those of the immigrants whose stories the group hopes to promote.

But expect to hear more from Welcome.us in June, when events inaugurating Immigrant Heritage Month are scheduled for Miami and Atlanta, Olubunmi said.

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