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Steve Case: Still 'optimistic' on immigration reform

October 10, 2013: 3:07 PM ET

AOL co-founder Steve Case believes we could still see comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.

FORTUNE --  When Steve Case first co-founded AOL (AOL), few people gave it a chance to succeed. Either it would die from lack of utilization (few people had even heard of the Internet yet) or at the hands of a large incumbent telecom company (such as AT&T). So it's not surprising that he's an optimist.

That sentiment extends to comprehensive immigration reform, which Case has spent the past several years championing as essential to the future of America's entrepreneurial economy.

In a conversation earlier today with Fortune, he says that he remains "cautiously optimistic" that a bill will pass this year, although admits that the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate have cost his cause valuable time and momentum.

"I was a bit more positive about it a couple of months ago, but there are still plenty of people who want to get this done," he explains.

When I suggested to Case that this Congress seems unable to even pass the salt, let alone comprehensive immigration reform, he called me a "cynic." He then brought up those who said AOL would fail, that Hillary Clinton would coast to the 2008 presidential nomination or that the JOBS Act could be passed during a presidential election year (2012). Case also added that, two years ago, few believed the Senate could pass immigration reform (which it did this past June).

The stumbling block, of course, remains the House of Representatives. Case said that he has held positive discussions with several House leaders, including majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). "There isn't agreement on all of the details, but I think there is agreement on pieces that could pass, like the Dream Act," he says.

Case then reiterated the need for such legislation when the conversation shifted to where recent engineering grads are most likely to seek work (Washington D.C.-based Case is a big proponent of startups launching outside of Silicon Valley). "If they aren't allowed to stay in the country, it doesn't matter."

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Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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