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Laurene Powell Jobs discusses immigration, education in interview

Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, sat down for a rare interview at the Code Conference on Wednesday to discuss philanthropic initiatives tied to her foundation, the Emerson Collective, immigration, education, the intersection of media and tech, and more.

Powell Jobs joined Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) onstage at Recode's annual event to speak with journalist Kara Swisher, who navigated a lively discussion mostly centered around immigration.

A hot button issue in the press, immigration is of particular concern to the technology industry, which relies on government initiatives like the H1-B visa program to attract and retain highly skilled workers. Those protections are in danger of liquidation as the Trump administration seeks ways to walk back Obama-era legislation, specifically the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Children of undocumented immigrants, some of whom have been living in the United States for decades, are now at risk of deportation. Powell Jobs spoke at length about DACA, its impact on modern U.S. economics and society in general during Wednesday's event.

Powell Jobs first encountered discrepancies with the modern U.S. immigration system through students enrolled in College Track, a college prep organization she co-founded in 1997 to assist underserved students. High school students who were brought to America as small children often learn that they are undocumented when applying for federal funding and grants deemed necessary for moving on to higher education, she said, and because of their status are are not eligible for such financial benefits.

This "glitch in the system," as Powell Jobs referred to it, amounts to a "colossal waste" of human talent. She pushed legislators to adopt early versions of immigration reform, which ultimately culminated in initiatives like the DREAM Act, though existing policy is not enough.

Each year, there are still some 65,000 undocumented high school graduates who are capable of moving on to college and subsequently contributors to the workforce, she said. That could soon change, however, as shifting political winds put DACA in jeopardy.

Powell Jobs more recently discussed immigration with President Trump in a closed-door meeting. Acting as an informal advisor, she provided statistics touting the benefits of keeping programs like DACA in play, acting as a counterbalance to White House rhetoric.

"He asked some questions, and then he talked about having a 'huge heart for DREAMers, I don't want to deport the DREAMers.' I said that's really good, it would be really good for you to say that publicly as well so that other people can understand what your legislative priorities are," Powell Jobs said.

Trump responded by saying he believes he alone can pass meaningful immigration reform. Powell Jobs agreed that with the backing of both the U.S. House and the Senate, Trump could push policy through.

"So let's see it done in a humane and viable and thoughtful way," she said.

Beyond the immigration work being done through College Track, Powell Jobs' Emerson Collective backs a variety of educational initiatives including the XQ Project. Directly funded by the organization, XQ seeks to design "next-generation" high schools by tailoring classroom curricula to workforce needs.

"We have enormous talent and ingenuity and IQ dispersed throughout this world, we do not have equal opportunity dispersed throughout this world," Powell Jobs said in response to an audience question.

Structured as an LLC rather than a pure non-profit, the Emerson Collective can make grants and invest in for-profit ventures. That includes media startups.

Currently, the organization has investments in California Sunday, production company Anonymous Content, media firm MACRO, and media site OZY. Aside from propping up promising small businesses, the investments represent a strategic platform for Emerson Collective's narrative.

"It was obvious that if we could be part of the creation of cultural narrative, that would enhance and amplify the work that we're doing," Powell Jobs said. "These are early days for us, but that's the idea behind it. We want to inspire the kind of stories that we'd like to see told."

Swisher half jokingly asked if the Emerson Collective would be interested in New York Times, to which Powell Jobs asked, "Is it for sale?"

During a Q&A session, Joshua Topolsky of The Outline asked what media outlets can do to combat the dissemination of slanted news or malicious lies, presumably spread through online news sites or social media services. Surprisingly, Powell Jobs said the responsibility to cut through the noise ultimately rests on the shoulders of the tech community.

"How do we recognize this is happening and what are the next steps," she said. "I think people really need to think about how to get back to that place where we can acknowledge and recognize the same base of facts and truth, because we've lost it."

Editor's note: Due to its political nature, comments for this article have been disabled.