The tech world doesn’t seem to be taking too keenly to what seems to be turning into Trump’s tyrannical administration, and its phobia of the “other”, wrapped and tucked nicely between the filings of the new American President’s executive orders.
The biggest of America’s tech companies have, in the last couple days, warned their employee, directing them with appropriate measures with respect to the ban imposed by Trump. Leaders throughout the industry, to which foreign-born talent is central, have condemned the decree in harsh words, and with actions, in private and public capacity.
Before delving further into the tech world’s reaction to the new policies, an understanding of what exactly is going on is important.
One of the first things that President Trump did in his first week in office was sign an executive order banning all immigrants and visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days. The order also bans refugee admissions for 120 days and Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely. The reason stated for this action is the need to protect America from terror, caused by those of a foreign origin. The order begins a fundamental shift in America’s refugee policy, as well as immigration policy.
The points of criticism of this order are of course many, with an important one being that the nature of this order is unconstitutional to US, and another one being that of these seven countries, no person has been traced back to an act of terrorism on the US soil in the last few decades. The residents of these countries are primarily Muslim, and that’s exactly who Trump wants to keep out with this order, following up on the promises he made during his campaign.
On the other hand, of the three recent terror attack that most supporters of this new policy state to defend it—the 9/11 attacks in New York, the San Bernardino shootings, the Orlando Pulse shooting—this executive order would have prevented exactly none of them. Of the 9/11 terrorists, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 from the UAE, 1 from Lebanon and 1 from Egypt. Of the San Bernardino shootings, the terrorists were green card holders who were Pakistani permanent residents. The Orlando Pulse shooting was the act of a US citizen.
What adds to this is the fact that the immigrants and refugees from pre-dominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bangladesh, and Nigeria do not have any restrictions placed on them. Of these, at least the first two have been known to cause more terrorism around the world than the others combined.
Retuning to Trump’s policy, while on the face of it, this seems like an American problem, it actually isn’t. For starters, it reflects what a phobia—mind you, not “fear” (fear is based in reason and rationality), but “phobia”—can do to a community, bringing out the violence and hostility where none seemed to have existed before. The world today runs on globalization, and almost all technology flows from one country to another; this platform of sharing and mutual benefit is what the tech world, and hence “development” in technology, runs on. Inclusivity, thus, has been a critical element of the tech world, where anyone, from anywhere, with the right set of skills, is welcome, and is treated with respect, and admiration.
Tech world’s idea of inclusivity, unlike that of many other industries that only claim to be inclusive, has been seen time and again in practice. Nothing reflects this better than the fact that a lot of the biggest of the names from the Silicon Valley are not inherently “American”; a lot of these people are either refugees or immigrants themselves, or their parents were.
Apple founder Steve Jobs was the child of Syrian immigrants, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is the child of Iranian parents, and Oracle’s Bob Miner is also Iranian. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a Soviet-born refugee. Satya Nadella of Microsoft, and Sunder Pichai of Google, Rajeev Suri of Nokia, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe are all Indian Americans and hence immigrants. This is not limited just to the top guys; Silicon Valley hires talent from all around the world.
From top executives, right down to the bottom, people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and origins, are known to work together in the world’s biggest tech companies. A ban like that imposed by Trump directly affects these companies, their people and their families, their policies, and their everyday workings. With their employees stuck in a limbo, it didn’t take long for the companies to pick a side, and come to the rescue of their staffers.
Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, on Friday night, was seen at the San Francisco airport, protesting with the thousands. He refused to comment beyond stating that he was there in a private capacity. The next day Google issued a statement stating that it is “Concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US.” In addition, Google has vowed to “Continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”
Apple CEO, Tim Cook was not too far behind. “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do… There are employees at Apple who are directly affected by yesterday’s immigration order. Our HR, Legal and Security teams are in contact with them, and Apple will do everything we can to support them,” he wrote in an email to Apple staffers. “Apple is open. Open to everyone, no matter where they come from, which language they speak, who they love or how they worship.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reported told his staffers on Saturday that the company is committed to providing “legal advice and assistance” to its 76 employees that are citizens of the affected countries. Another Microsoft email shared by Nadella on Linkedin also stated that the company will advocate for “Protecting legitimate and law-abiding refugees whose very lives may be at stake in immigration proceedings.” Nadella has been known to support the issue.
Amazon sent out an email to its staffers as well. “As we’ve grown the company, we’ve worked hard to attract talented people from all over the world, and we believe this is one of the things that makes Amazon great — a diverse workforce helps us build better products for customers,” wrote Beth Galetti, Amazon’s vice president of human resources.
Facebook said in a statement Saturday that it’s “assessing the impact [of the ban] on our workforce and determining how best to protect our people and their families from any adverse effects.” In a post on Facebook in personal capacity, the founder Mark Zuckerberg stated the importance of migration in his personal life, saying “had we turned away refugees a few decades ago, Priscilla’s family wouldn’t be here today.” Priscilla is his wife.
Over Twitter, executives from multiple companies have been critical of Trump’s new policy. This includes executives from Twitter, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Tinder, Youtube, Wikipedia, Instagram, Tumblr, Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, Yelp, Foursquare, and Salesforce amongst dozens of others.
Of the people affected, thousands are stranded on the airports across US. Computational biologist Samira Asgari was denied boarding at the airport due to her Iranian nationality, and can’t come back to work on immune-genomics at Harvard. Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi can’t come back to the US to attend the Oscars, where he has been nominated again. Sudanese doctor, Dr. Suha Abushamma arrived to start work at the prestigious Cleveland clinic, only to be put on to a plane back out hours later.
Trump’s new policy, being majorly referred to as the Muslim Ban across all social media platforms, is for now only garnering negative attention, shame, and criticism, on a level not much different from China’s communism, and Russia’s jingoistic democracy. The fact of the matter is that it is not just about American policy, it is also about how these policies affect the tech industry and its people across the world. When people at the headquarters are disturbed and displaced, when they can’t get all their talent to sit in one room because the President decided to ban half of them from the country based on their origin, when they obviously can’t hope to acquire new talent from certain origins, how would these companies function, let alone keep making progress and working on development?!
The tech world is based on an idea of globalisation, and mostly functions without borders, and in all spaces. To be able to do so, they need personnel from various countries, and bases in all of them. Trump’s new policies make it complicated by many folds for them to continue doing so. Having already condemned the policies publically, and having already taken measures to set up funds for legal battles if needed, for their employees, will one of their subsequent considerations be to move out of the US?
While questions are many, answers will only be sought with time, as this unfolds further.