Commentary

Tech Industry Reeling, Reacting To Trump Immigration Order

As worldwide furor over the administration’s temporary ban on admitting refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries grew over the weekend, President Donald Trump blamed the media for misrepresenting the action and insisted it was “not a ban on Muslims.” Meanwhile, executives at a number of prominent companies — led by the tech industry — denounced the action even as Bloomberg reports the situation may get ever tougher for companies who rely on foreign workers.

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," Trump said in a statement yesterday, the BBC reports. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”

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There’s another side to that point, however. 

“President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries is being rightly challenged in the courts for, among other things, its unconstitutional interference with free exercise of religion and denial of due process,” write Richard W. Painter and Norman L. Eisen, who were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, in an opinion piece in the New York Times

“Overlooked in the furor is another troubling aspect of the situation: President Trump omitted from his ban a number of other predominantly Muslim nations where his company has done business,” they point out.

Meanwhile, USA Today’s Jon Swartz reports that Google “has created a $2 million crisis fund that can be matched with up to $2 million in donations from employees, totaling $4 million, for four organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, International Rescue Committee and UNHCR. It is Google's largest crisis campaign ever” in response to Trump’s executive order suspending refugee arrivals for at least 120 days and barring visas from seven Muslim countries.

“The order could greatly disrupt the businesses of tech companies, which rely heavily on foreign-born workers. In a staff memo, CEO Sundar Pichai said the move affects at least 187 of the Internet giant's staff,” Swartz reports.

Indeed, “the move blindsided the technology industry, which thought that its main battle on the immigration front was over the number of H-1B visas — granted to high-skilled foreign workers — that will be made available each year,” reports Tracey Lien for the Los Angeles Times. “The tech sector relies heavily on foreign-born software engineers to meet its staffing needs, and it has long lobbied for the government to lift the cap on the H-1B visa program to allow more foreign workers temporary employment with U.S. firms.”

But just because travel bans came first doesn’t mean the administration isn’t planning to take action on work visas, too. The President’s “clash with Silicon Valley over immigration is about to become even more contentious” if a draft proposal Bloomberg’s Peter Elstrom and Saritha Rai have seen becomes official policy. 

“His administration has drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling the work-visa programs technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year,” they write

“If implemented, the reforms could force wholesale changes at India companies such as Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd., and shift the way American companies like Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. recruit talent. Companies would have to try to hire Americans first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid.”

The administration did not respond to a request for comment about the draft, Elstrom and Rai report.

Meanwhile, “Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a letter reacting to what he called ‘deep concerns’ among employees. He assured them Apple does not support Trump's policy. ‘Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,’ he wrote in an email obtained by CNN,” CNN Money’s Laurie Segall and Jackie Wattles write.

“Microsoft — which is run by Satya Nadella, who immigrated to the U.S. from India — told employees Saturday that the company is committed to providing ‘legal advice and assistance’ to its 76 employees that are citizens of the affected countries,” they report. “… Amazon also sent an email to employees about the potential implications of Trump's order and offered legal assistance to employees who might be impacted.”

Perhaps the hed in the Wall Street Journal — not known for liberal leanings — puts it best: “Donald Trump’s Immigration Ban Sows Chaos.”

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