On January 27, President Trump signed an executive order that banned citizens from seven countries from entering the United States. The move sparked outrage, both on- and off-line, and has tech companies scrambling.
The crux of tech’s response has to do with non-citizen employees working in the United States, as well as citizens working overseas. Shortly after Trump’s order went into effect, Google called 100 employees back from various satellite offices around the world. In a memo, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote: “It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues. We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
Speaking to Bloomberg, a Google spokesperson said: “We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that create barriers to bringing great talent to the United States. We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”
Today, Google announced it was building an “immigration crisis” fund, and pledged $2 million to the effort. The fund, which is capped at $4 million, will match employee donations to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Immigrant Legal Resource Center, International Rescue Committee and United Nations High Commissioner for Refuges (UNHCR). Googlers at various offices later staged a walkout to protest Trump’s immigration ban.
This “matching” was widespread on social media this past weekend, as several venture capitalists and otherwise-rich-from-tech personalities pledged to mirror donations to the ACLU. It helped the ACLU earn upwards of $24 million over the weekend – six times its typical annual pull.
In Cupertino, Apple’s response was tempered. In a memo to employees, CEO Tim Cook said the executive order was “not a policy we support,” adding “Apple would not exist without immigration.” Though Cook didn’t drill down into the topic, Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.
Apple has so far kept the bulk of its response internal. Cook’s memo only addresses how the company approaches the executive order; it has not issued any official response on the matter. The company’s legal teams will assist affected employees, but the organization has yet to engage in the same sort of public outreach as other companies.
In a similar vein, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is playing it safe with Trump. His first Tweet on the matter simply said the executive order was “not the best way to address the country’s challenges.” Subsequent Tweets encouraged followers to read the executive order for themselves.
Musk promised to try to influence Trump towards reform, which is where Uber CEO Travis Kalanick gloms onto the cause. A few days before the executive order, Kalanick told employees during an all-hands meeting that working with Trump amounted to a necessary evil. “We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation in cities better,” he said, “creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off the streets.”
Even after the NY Taxi Drivers’ Alliance asked all cab and Uber drivers to stop picking up passengers from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport on the evening of Jan. 28 as a sign of solidarity with the protestors there, Uber kept its vehicles running without surge pricing. Although Uber said its decision wasn’t meant to take advantage of the short taxi strike, outrage sparked a #DeleteUber movement on social media, prompting an untold number of users to delete the app.
Since then, Kalanick has posted to Facebook, noting the company would compensate affected drivers “pro bono” over the next three months.
Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, avoided crisis altogether by issuing a stern rebuke to the executive order, and promising $1 million over the next four years to the ACLU.
AirBNB offered free housing to refugees or anyone not allowed to stay in the United States as a result of the executive order. Many travelers were caught off-guard by the order, with many having left an overseas destination in good standing, only to be refused entry to the United States upon arrival.
Microsoft responded strongly to the executive order. “We believe the executive order is misguided and a fundamental step backwards,” read the company’s statement. “There are more effective ways to protect public safety without creating so much collateral damage to the country’s reputation and values.” Some 76 Microsoft employees are reportedly affected by Trump’s move.
Perhaps the saddest response was Amazon’s; it told overseas employees to cancel plans to visit the United States, and offered to help form “contingency plans” for domestic employees traveling overseas. In a statement issued Jan. 30, the company added: “This executive order is one we do not support. Our public policy team in D.C. has reached out to senior administration officials to make our opposition clear.”
Although much of this played out on social media, the response from the actual social platforms was lukewarm. Twitter simply tweeted that it stood behind its own diverse workforce, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kept it all very politically correct.
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg said the issue was “personal” for him, and offered the following:
We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat. Expanding the focus of law enforcement beyond people who are real threats would make all Americans less safe by diverting resources, while millions of undocumented folks who don’t pose a threat will live in fear of deportation.
In all, it was a wild weekend met with fairly tepid responses from tech companies and/or their CEOs, who are among the businesspeople most affected by Trump’s order. H-1B visas are widely used by these companies, and many hold annual conferences where they invite developers from all over the globe to attend.
Treading lightly is the modus operandi for tech CEOs in dealing with Trump. Even as his wild brand of ‘reform’ causes confusion for many, several of these companies are actively working with the President on several matters. And by donating to organizations such as the ACLU, it seems that many in positions of power are also filling the offers of the opposition as a contingency plan.