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Friday, May 24, 2024

Silicon Valley puts money and muscle into fighting Trump immigrant ban

Silicon Valley took the lead over the weekend in corporate resistance to US President Donald Trump’s clampdown on immigration. Criticizing the plan, US tech companies said they would finance legal opposition and would also help employees ensnared by his executive order. 

In an industry that has long depended on immigrants and celebrated their contributions, there was little initial consensus on exactly how to respond to Trump’s move on Friday.

But, while most in the tech industry stopped short of directly criticizing the new Republican president, they went much further than their counterparts in other sectors, who were mostly silent over the weekend.

Most of the major US banks and car companies, for example, declined to comment in response to Reuters inquiries.

AirBnB’s CEO Brian Chesky offered free accommodation to anyone in need as a result of the ban, while Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees globally over the next five years

Trump ordered a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a 120-day halt to refugee resettlement. The action triggered a global backlash, and sowed confusion and anger after immigrants, refugees and visitors were kept off flights and left stranded in airports.

Read more: Trump set to restrict immigration: no entry to USA for visa holders from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and 3 other African nations

Bigger companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft offered legal aid to employees affected by the order, according to letters sent to staff.

A number of other firms have also offered help to those affected by the decision.

AirBnB chief executive Brian Chesky offered free accommodation to anyone in need as a result of the ban, while Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees globally over the next five years.

Several Silicon Valley executives also donated to legal efforts to support immigrants facing the ban.

And Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Uber head Travis Kalanick both said on Twitter that they would take industry concerns about immigration to Trump’s business advisory council, where they serve.

Kalanick in a Facebook post over the weekend called the immigration ban “wrong and unjust” and said that Uber would create a $3m fund to help drivers with immigration issues.

Among those affected by the ban was Khash Sajadi, the British-Iranian chief executive of San Francisco-based Tech Company Cloud 66, who was stuck in London.

Like many tech workers, he holds an H1B visa, which enables foreigners with special expertise to work for US companies.

Sajadi said he hoped big tech companies such as Google and Facebook would take legal action to protect affected employees. That could help set a precedent for people in similar situations but at smaller companies.

Read more: Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging effects on the world’s refugee

At Lyft, co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged on the company’s blog to donate €1m over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which won a temporary stay of part of Trump’s executive order on Saturday night.

Slack collaboration service co-founder Stewart Butterfield and Union Square Ventures partners Albert Wenger and Fred Wilson promised to match contributions to the ACLU.

Michael Dearing, founder of venture capital firm Harrison Metal, started an effort called Project ELLIS, short for Entrepreneurs’ Liberty Link in Silicon Valley, to help startups and smaller tech companies with immigration issues.

“ELLIS” is an also a reference to New York Harbor’s Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants arrived.

In less than a day, the group has handled two cases, he said.

Dearing said the idea was to “get people in touch quickly with the resources they would have access to if they were in a Google or an Apple or a Microsoft.”

Dave McClure, the founding partner of 500 Startups and an outspoken critic of Trump, said his venture capital firm will soon open its first fund in the Middle East and will shift its attention to supporting entrepreneurs in their native countries, if bringing them to the US proves impossible.

“Investing in entrepreneurs in other countries is probably one of the best things we can do to promote international awareness and understanding,” he said.

This piece was published in RTE.