Tech firms recall employees to US, denounce Trump's ban on refugees from Muslim countries – Washington Post

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The country’s leading tech companies are recalling overseas employees and sharply criticizing President Trump in the wake of his order on Friday that barred foreign Muslims from entering the United States for 120 days.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai late on Friday ordered scores of staffers traveling overseas to return to the United States immediately. Pichai sent out a company-wide memo that was highly critical of Trump’s action, saying it could prevent at least 187 foreign-born Google employees from entering the United States, according to a person who has seen the memo and verified its authenticity.

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” wrote Pichai. “We’re upset 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.”

Thousands of tech workers living in Silicon Valley or abroad could potentially be impacted by Trump’s executive order, according to Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

About 250,000 Muslims are estimated to live in the Bay Area, many of whom are Arab or South Asian immigrants working at companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. Green card holders are at risk as well.

“This is just where it starts. What happens when they add Pakistan? Or a Gulf country? Indonesia and Malaysia?” said Billoo, a civil rights attorney. “By targeting immigrants in this way, Trump’s executive orders not only directly impacts certain workers, their families and these companies, they also impact co-workers because people from other Muslim-majority countries could be next.”

In addition to blocking travelers from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, the restrictions on foreign entry will also apply to those who hold dual nationality. That would mean a person born in one of those seven countries, but holding a passport from a country such as the U.K., could also be denied entry into the United States.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, in a letter to staff Saturday, said that at least 76 employees will be affected by Trump’s policy. The company said it has already contacted those individuals with offers of legal assistance, and urged other employees who may be subject to the ban to contact the company as soon as possible.

“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” wrote Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, in a LinkedIn post. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Friday wrote in a public message that both he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are indebted to the United States’ policy of welcomeness and inclusion.

“We should also keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help. That’s who we are,” wrote Zuckerberg. “Had we turned away refugees a few decades ago, Priscilla’s family wouldn’t be here today.”

Similar sentiments were expressed across the tech industry. Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who was in Washington to meet with Republican officials, tweeted a historic quote from President Lincoln highlighting “malice toward none” and “charity for all” during a visit to Ford’s Theatre.

Deeply moved today visiting @FordsTheatreNPS and Peterson House where Abraham Lincoln took his last breath. His words are timeless.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) January 28, 2017

Meanwhile, a major trade group representing firms such as Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and LinkedIn said Saturday that Trump’s decision had “troubling consequences” for Silicon Valley companies who depend on talent from overseas.

“The internet industry is deeply concerned with the implications of President Trump’s executive order limiting immigration and movement into the United States,” said Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association.

Open doors brings all of US together. Closing doors further divides US. Let’s all find ways to connect people, not separate them.

— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) January 28, 2017

Trump’s hostility toward Muslim refugees and immigrants raises tensions between the White House and Silicon Valley. Aside from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has been closely advising Trump, much of the tech industry had supported Hillary Clinton for president. In open letters and other public statements during the campaign, tech execs and workers objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim views, and some signed onto a commitment not to help design Trump’s proposed Muslim registry.

Trump’s action against Middle Eastern travelers obligates tech companies to take a stand, said Sam Altman, president of the influential startup accelerator Y Combinator, in a blog post Saturday.

“The precedent of invalidating already-issued visas and green cards should be extremely troubling for immigrants of any country or for anyone who thinks their contributions to the US are important,” said Altman in a blog post. “This is not just a Muslim ban. This is a breach of America’s contract with all the immigrants in the nation.”

For many in Silicon Valley, Trump’s order crossed “a red line,” according to Hunter Walk, a partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Homebrew VC.

“For those of us who’ve already been vocal … [it’s] moving people from saying ‘focus on midterm elections’ to apply direct pressure to our industry’s CEOs and our politicians to take a stand,” said Walk. “And for those in our industry who thought they could just wait and see, they’re taking our administration both literally and seriously this morning.”

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