The U.S. tech sector versus Trump’s Muslim travel ban
At least 147 U.S. tech companies now publicly oppose President Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban, including some of the most capitalized and influential corporations in the world, such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Intel.
The backlash from the tech sector began within days of January 26, when President Trump signed his executive order banning certain immigrants from entering the United States, including all Syrian refugees and anyone from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
Seemingly, all the other 145-plus tech companies publicly opposed to the travel ban have associated themselves with the well-publicized lawsuit State of Washington and State of Minnesota v. Trump.
It is this latter legal action, commonly called Washington v. Trump, which has been blocking implementation of the travel ban since February 3 and which a U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to quash in a unanimous ruling on February 9.
In their amicus brief, Yahoo and Tumblr neatly sum up the pro-immigration attitude of all the tech companies opposed to the Trump travel ban:
“Immigrants to the U.S. bring with them immense talent and entrepreneurship that help drive the innovation economy. Yahoo was founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo—two Stanford grad students, one from Taiwan and one from Louisiana—so we know firsthand that great things can happen when America welcomes the world’s best and brightest.”
However, the tech companies’ arguments against the travel ban are rooted less in warm humanist virtue than in hard economic necessity.
The U.S. education system, the companies say, does not produce anywhere near enough Americans with the requisite computer science skills to fill more than a fraction of U.S. tech jobs; therefore it is absolutely necessary to attract a constant influx of the world’s “best and brightest” in order for the tech sector in the United States just to survive, let alone thrive.
keep in mind that opposing a newly-elected president who is carrying out a campaign promise is not—strictly speaking—a good business move; rather it is a sure way to piss off millions of voters/consumers.
I take the fact that so many tech companies (almost all of them dependent on consumer sales) have been willing to come out against Trump’s travel ban as proof of two things:
That the companies see the travel ban and similar anti-immigration policies as truly threatening their survival and that they can count well enough to know that more U.S. consumers voted for Hillary Clinton (65,844,954, or 48.2%) than for Donald Trump (62,979,879, or 46.1%).
President Trump keeps a divisive campaign promise
In brief, U.S President Donald Trump’s travel ban–properly titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, which Trump signed on January 26 as Executive Order 13769, does the following:
- Permanently closes the U.S. borders to all Syrian refugees.
- Closes the U.S. borders for 90 days to immigrants and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen)—including immigrants with valid U.S. visas. After 90 days the list of banned countries will be revised and perhaps even expanded.
- Suspends for 120 days the troubled U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
- Caps to 50,000 the total number of refugees allowed in the U.S in 2017.
Instant legal challenges
On January 30—only four days after the Executive Order was signed—Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (later joined by the attorney general of Minnesota) was in a Seattle U.S. District Court seeking to have the executive order declared “illegal and unconstitutional”.
Ferguson argued that the Muslim travel ban was both discriminatory and directly harmed the interests of the state’s residents as well as the foreign students and lecturers attending state educational institutions.
On February 3, U.S. district Judge James L. Robart sided with Washington State and granted a temporary restraining order against key elements of Trump’s executive order.
On February 9, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, unanimously denied the Trump administration’s request to lift the temporary restraining order stopping the U.S. government from enforcing much of the travel ban. This effectively threw the matter back to the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington, where it began.
On February 27, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to put a hold on the Washington v. Trump suit seeking to overturn the current travel ban, despite claims by the Trump administration that it is readying a differently formulated travel ban, intended to be immune from judicial challenge.
On February 28 it was widely reported that the newly revised travel ban would drop Iraq from the list of banned countries of origin.
The U.S. tech sector stands for Immigration
The U.S. information technology sector only needed to look at itself in a mirror to see why it had to oppose the Trump administration’s specifically Islamophobic and generally xenophobic immigration travel ban:
- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos‘ step-dad immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.
- Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.
- AT&T co-founder and telephone patent-holder Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland.
- Bell Labs president and Yurie Systems founder Jeong Hun Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea.
- Bloom Energy founder K. R. Sridhar was born in India.
- CloudFlare co-founder Michelle Zatlyn was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada.
- Comcast founder Daniel Aaron was a refugee from Nazi Germany.
- Computer Associates founder Charles Wang was born in Shanghai, China.
- C++ programming language inventor Bjarne Stroustrup was born in Denmark.
- Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi was born in Iran.
- Ebay founder and CEO Pierre Omdiyar was born in Paris, France.
- Eventbrite co-founder and CTO Renaud Visage was born in Vitel, Australia.
- Evernote CEO Phil Libin was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia and moved to U.S. at age 8.
- Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was an refugee fleeing the 1978 Iranian Revolution.
- Google co-founder Sergey Brin was a refugee from the former Soviet Union.
- Current Google CEO Sundar Pichai was born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.
- Gusto co-founder and CTO Tomer London was born in Haifa, Israel.
- Instagram co-founder Mike Kreiger was born in São Paulo, Brazil.
- Intel executive Andrew Grove was born in Hungary and emigrated to the U.S. in 1957.
- Jawbone co-founder Alexander Asseily was born in London UK.
- littleBits founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir was born in Montreal, Canada.
- Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was born in Hyderabad, India.
- PayPal co-founder Max Levchin was born in Kiev, Ukraine.
- Qualcomm, Inc. co-founder Andrew Viterbi was born in Italy.
- RCA Corporation founder David Sarnoff was born in Minsk, Russia.
- SanDisk co-founder Sanjey Mehtora was born in India.
- SanDisk co-founder and first CEO Eli Harari was born in Israel (U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2014).
- SanDisk co-founder Jack Yuan was born in Taiwan.
- Shapeways co-founder and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen was born in the Netherlands.
- Social Capital founder Chamath Palihapitiya was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Canada.
- Sprinklr CTO Pavitar Singh was born in India.
- Sprinklr co-founder and CEO Ragy Thomas was born in India.
- Sprint CEO and Brightstar founder Marcelo Claure was born in La Paz, Bolivia.
- Stripe co-founders John Collison and Patrick Collison were born in Ireland.
- Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim was born in Bavaria, Germany.
- Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla was born in Delhi, India.
- Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk is South African-born with Canadian-American citizenship.
- Tidemark founder and CEO Christian Gheorghe emigrated to U.S. from Romania in the 1990s.
- Tinder co-founder and CEO Sean Rad’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in the 1970s.
- Twitter’s executive chairman Omid Kordestani was born in Iran.
- Venmo founder Iqram Magdon-Ismail was born in Zimbabwe.
- WeWork founder Adam Neumann was born in Tel Aviv, Israel.
- WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum was born in Kiev, Ukraine.
- Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang was born in Taipei, Taiwan.
- Zumba founder/creator Beto Perez was born in Cali, Colombia.
- Zuora founder and CEO Tien Tzou was born in Taiwan.
- California entrepreneur Safi Qureshey—a practicing Muslim born in Pakistan—co-founded the (now defunct) U.S. personal computer company AST Research in 1980.
And on and on.
Besides the gifted foreign-born entrepreneurs and executives mentioned above (some of whom have slowly risen up through the corporate ranks), U.S. tech companies appear to be very dependent on attracting very large numbers of foreign-born computer science graduates, in order to fill positions in middle management and below—all thanks to a massive ongoing shortfall in skilled American computer graduates.
According to several sources, including The Atlantic, there are currently about half a million computer jobs to be filled in the U.S. tech sector but only about 43,000 Americans graduate college annually with the required computer science degrees to fill these jobs.
Meanwhile, considerably more than one million IT engineers graduate in China and India every year, according to Newsweek.
The U.S. government has been trying, in fits and starts, to grow the number of American science graduates for decades. Most recently the Obama administration tried hard but was largely unable to convince a Republican-held Congress to approve a package of programs designed to produce more college graduates in the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.
Simply put, the U.S. technology companies which are opposed to Trump’s travel ban say that in lieu of a large-enough pool of sufficiently skilled Americans, they must hire skilled foreign workers.
And insofar as the travel ban makes it difficult for U.S. tech companies to attract and keep the best-qualified foreign-born workers, it does real harm to the long term prospects of the U.S. tech sector, which is a significant segment of the U.S. economy, accounting for millions of good domestic jobs and trillions of dollars of domestic spending.
How the tech opposition to Trump’s travel ban evolved
First off, on January 31, Amazon and Expedia (both based in Washington state) each filed declarations joining the Washington lawsuit against the travel ban.
Amazon’s motion cites the travel ban’s adverse affects on both employees and prospective employees, including a Libyan-born Amazon lawyer with British citizenship, as well as 49 employees born in the seven Muslim-majority countries included in the ban.
Expedia’s motion says that the ban could damage its international travel business, considering that at least 1,000 of its customers hold passports from the seven restricted countries.
On February 6, 96 U.S. companies filed an amicus brief in support of the suit against the ban, including many of the heaviest hitters in tech:
AdRoll • Aeris Communications • Airbnb • AltSchool • Ancestry.com • Appboy • Apple • AppNexus Inc. • Asana, Inc. • Atlassian Corp Plc • Autodesk • Automattic • Box • Brightcove • Brit + Co • CareZone • Castlight Health • Checkr • Chobani • Citrix Systems • Cloudera • Cloudflare • Copia Institute • DocuSign • DoorDash • Dropbox • Dynatrace • eBay • Engine Advocacy • Etsy • Facebook • Fastly • Flipboard • Foursquare Labs • Fuze • General Assembly • GitHub • Glassdoor • Google • GoPro • Harmonic • Hipmunk • Indiegogo • Intel Corporation • JAND, Inc. d/b/a Warby Parker • Kargo Global • Kickstarter • KIND • Knotel • Levi Strauss & Co. • LinkedIn Corporation • Lithium Technologies, Inc. • Lyft • Mapbox • Maplebear Inc. d/b/a Instacart • Marin Software Incorporated • Medallia, Inc. • A Medium Corporation • Meetup, Inc. • Microsoft Corporation • Motivate International • Mozilla Corporation • Netflix • NETGEAR • NewsCred • Patreon • PayPal Holdings, Inc. • Pinterest • Quora • Reddit • Rocket Fuel • SaaStr • Salesforce.com, Inc. • Scopely • Shutterstock • Snap • Spokeo • Spotify USA • Square • Squarespace • Strava • Stripe • SurveyMonkey • TaskRabbit • Tech:NYC • Thumbtack • Turn Inc. • Twilio • Twitter • Uber Technologies, Inc. • Via • Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. • Workday • Y Combinator Management, LLC • Yelp • Zynga.
By the evening of February 6, another 31 companies had reportedly joined the brief, including Adobe Systems, Tesla and Space X, bringing the total to 129:
Adobe Systems Incorporated • Affirm, Inc. • Ampush • Brocade Communications Systems • Bungie • Casper Sleep • Cavium • Chegg • ClassPass • Coursera • EquityZen Inc. • Evernote • Gusto • Handy Technologies • HP • IAC/InterActiveCorp • Linden Lab • Managed By Q • MobileIron • New Relic • Pandora Media • Planet Labs • RPX Corporation • Shift Technologies • Slack Technologies • SpaceX • Tesla • TripAdvisor • Udacity • Zendesk • Zenefits.
Between February 7th and 9th a minimum of 16 more companies joined the Technology Companies amicus brief, bringing the total to at least 145:
Akamai Technologies, Inc. • CREDO Mobile, Inc. • DiCentral • Fitbit, Inc. • Groupon • Medidata Solutions • Molecule Software, Inc. • MongoDB, Inc. • Pivotal Software • Postmates • Redfin • Quantcast Corp. • SoundCloud, Inc. • Skycatch, Inc. • SpotHero • WHOmentors.com, Inc.
The late addition of Yahoo and Tumbler on February 17 brings the total to at least 147.
The tech companies in Trump’s corner
Donald Trump does have his supporters in the tech sector. Notable U.S. technology companies which have not voiced opposition to the travel ban include:
AT&T • Cisco • General Electric • IBM • Oracle • Palantir Technologies • Sprint • T-Mobile • Verizon • WeWork.
Notably, AT&T, Cisco, IBM and Palantir do very little or none of their business with the general public.
AT&T, in particular, dares not anger Donald Trump because it needs his administration’s approval of its huge merger with Time Warner, the owner of CNN.
IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty is a member of Trump’s business advisory council and in November 2016 wrote an open letter to president-elect Trump on the subject of creating “new collar” jobs, wherein she promised that IBM would bring 25,000 more jobs to the U.S.
Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp attended Trump’s tech summit but more to the point, the data mining software company is firmly in the Trump administration’s pocket. Palantir was co-founded by Trump supporter Peter Thiel with backing from Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture arm and counts the FBI, Pentagon and IRS among its largest clients. And to paraphrase Intercept, Palantir is providing the engine for Donald Trump’s deportation machine.
Is Trump trying to prevent terrorism or cause it?
The majority of mass killing incidents in the United States have been committed by citizens born in the United States and the common thread that connects all the terrorists—domestic and foreign—from the Unabomber to Timothy McVeigh to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen to Osama Bin Laden—isn’t nationality or religion, it is the nihilistic surrender to extremism, hate and murder.
- Between 1975 and 2015, nationals from 5 of the banned countries (2 Iraqis, 6 Iranians, 2 Somalis, 6 Sudanese and 1 Yemeni) were convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. but all the same, no one from the seven banned countries killed anyone in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that period.
- None of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in the U.S. claiming 10 or more victims were from one of the seven banned countries. The majority of attacks were committed by people born in the U.S.
- Over the last four decades, only 20 of 3.25 million refugees have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil.
- Only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cubans in the 1970s.
- None of the birth countries of people who have killed people in U.S. (Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) are affected by Trump’s travel ban.
- No Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization holds business interests, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the U.A.E. and Azerbaijan are affected by the ban.
Arguably, only someone ignorant of the actual history of terrorism in the United States could imagine that Trump’s Muslim-centric travel ban could do anything to reduce the threat of such acts on U.S. soil.
However, I do not consider Donald Trump to be unintelligent, just uncaring of the larger consequences of his self-centred actions; I see him as someone who would burn down a forest just to warm his little hands.
Donald Trump also looks to me like a man in a hurry to start something. His March 2 speech aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier wearing a flight jacket and an admiral’s cap suggests how badly he wants an excuse to dress up as the warrior—Il Duce-style; to clothe himself and his actions in the wardrobe of scoundrels and by that I mean jingoistic “love it or leave it” patriotism.
I admit that it’s a terrible thing to suggest, that Trump’s travel ban may be coldly calculated to provoke the very terrorism that it speaks of thwarting; likely it’s just the simpler sort of pandering bigotry that one associates with a populist demagogue of Trump’s stripe.
Either way I’m sure that it’s purpose doesn’t extend much beyond selfish political considerations on Trump’s part. And I agree wholeheartedly with the technology companies opposed to the travel ban that whatever comes of it will be to the expense and detriment of the United States.
And you know that something’s really rotten when you find yourself in perfect accord with a bunch of avaricious corporate entities such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Intel.
- Permanent ban on Syrian refugees is reduced to a 120-day ban requiring review and renewal.
- Provision explicitly protected religious minorities has been removed.
- Iraq is removed from the list of embargoed countries-of-origin: Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The NYT sums up the new travel ban as barring new immigrants and all refugees but allowing dual nationals, Iraqi nationals and dolomats and exempting green card holders. Click the image to enlarge it.