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The U.S. tech sector versus Trump’s Muslim travel ban

March 3, 2017
trump-signing-travel-ban

U.S. President Donald Trumps signing Executive Order 13769 on January 26.—Euronews/Youtube

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.

Most recently, Yahoo and Tumblr filed an amicus brief on Friday, February 17, in support of Darweesh v. Trump—one of nearly 50 court challenges to the travel ban.

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:

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, 98 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.

Oracle’s CEO Israeli-born Safra Catz was part of Trump’s transition team and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has gone on record as supporting Trump’s tax reform policies.

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.

Update: According to the New York Times, President Trump on Monday (March 6) signed a new travel ban including significant changes:

  • 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.

6 Comments
  1. Great post, learnt lots from it! 👍

    • Thanks. I’ve since expanded the founders list to make it that much clearer just how important immigration has been and continues to be to the U.S. tech sector.

      • Boundary lines that define a country are drawn on maps. The truth is we all share this one world and should respect each other and the planet to share it. Share it wisely and responsibly so future generations can enjoy it too. One can live in hope 😊

      • This is true. But the idea that the world is populated by only one kind of people (namely people, or human beings) and that skin colour is as irrelevant to performance in people as it is in automobiles is contrary to the views of the Trump administration.

        Likewise this administration is blinding itself to the fact that immigration, diversity and innovation go hand in hand.

        Trump’s xenophobic, anti-Caucasian attitude towards immigration is, I think, an exemplar of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

  2. Which is ironic as he’s part Scottish himself! And has married an immigrant 😂

    • Some might argue that what looks like irony from where we are standing is actually hypocrisy where Donald Trump is standing. Then again, perhaps not. He’s said nothing about closing the door on immigrants from Scotland or Slovenia.

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