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Tech vs. Trump and Obama too

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

Shortly after the Trump administration announced its plan to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and encourage Congress to take action, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg posted  that she was “heartbroken and deeply concerned.” And she wasn’t alone. Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke up along with the CEOs of Microsoft and Google and several other tech leaders.

Not the first time

This is not the first-time tech leaders have weighed in on the president’s agenda. These same senior executives, along with their counterparts at Uber, Intel, Netflix and other companies, expressed their opposition to the administration’s first and second attempt at a travel ban. Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia, all based in Washington state, supported that state’s lawsuit over the immigration ban, citing its likely effect on their employees.

Many tech execs also expressed outrage at the way Trump reacted to the white supremacy and Nazi rally in Charlottesville as well as his tweet and subsequent order to keep transgender people out of the military.

Historically, business leaders have been reluctant to comment on controversial political issues, but that’s changing not only among leaders in tech, but other industries as well, as witnessed by the resignations from Trump’s manufacturing committee, including the chief executives of Campbell Soup, 3M, Merk and Under Armour, along with Intel and other companies.

Why tech cares about immigration

Each of these leaders have their own reasons, including moral outrage. But one common denominator is support for their own employees who, in some cases, are directly affected by the administration’s actions.

All major tech companies, for example, have immigrants among their workforce who can be directly affected by any changes to the immigration policy. Even those who are not in any danger of being deported might worry about being re-admitted to the U.S. if they travel overseas or worry about their ability to invite family members from their home country to visit or live with them. Collectively, these employees from around the world are vital to the success of tech companies and it’s not uncommon for senior executives, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz, to have come here from other countries.

Nearly all the 780,000 “dreamers” who could be forced out of their jobs and out of the country if Trump’s executive order isn’t superseded by a Congressional law, are in school, in the military or in the workforce and many are working for tech companies. Nearby 223,000 people in the DACA program live in California.

In a post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that he knows of at least 27 Microsoft employees who are DACA beneficiaries.

“They are software engineers with top technical skills; finance professionals driving our business ambitions forward; and retail and sales associates connecting customers to our technologies,” he wrote, adding “These employees, along with other DREAMers, should continue to have the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to our country’s strength and prosperity.”

Both Apple and Microsoft have pledged to provide legal support to any affected employees and both companies have joined the chorus of tech leaders urging Congress to pass legislation to allow dreamers to remain in the country.

Tech leaders are also speaking collectively. Fwd.us a non-profit whose mission “is to mobilize the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century,” is supported by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers general partner John Doerr, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and numerous other tech luminaries. The organization is taking a strong stand in favor of keeping DACA and is advocating for immigration reform that would “create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States who do not have legal status.” They add that “reform would also strengthen millions of American families.”

Tech companies have also been lobbying to protect the H-1B visa program, which they use to bring in employees from throughout the world. The Trump administration, with some support from labor unions, wants to cut back on the number of foreign employees in favor of a “hire American” agenda but tech companies argue that there is a shortage of American workers qualified for jobs that are now filled by H-1B visa holders. Critics of the H1-B program claim that it’s being used to hire foreign workers at lower wages than their American counterparts.

Obama too

It’s important to remember that tech companies were speaking out against policies of the Obama administration as well. Apple famously went to war against the Obama Justice Department after the FBI sought to force Apple to develop software to enable the government to peer into the cell phone of one of the shooters in the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack. Obama and tech companies also fought over personal information collected by the National Security Administration and other surveillance issues. And there have been plenty of skirmishes between tech companies and some members of Congress over issues such as network neutrality, proposed regulation of artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles and a variety of privacy and free speech issues.