Silicon Valley puts money and muscle into fighting Trump immigrant curbs

Silicon Valley took the lead over the weekend in corporate resistance to President Donald Trump’s clampdown on immigration, financing legal opposition, criticizing the plan, as well as helping employees ensnared by his executive order.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (NETFLIX) – Silicon Valley took the lead over the weekend in corporate resistance to President Donald Trump’s clampdown on immigration, financing legal opposition, criticizing the plan, as well as helping employees ensnared by his executive order.

In an industry that has long depended on immigrants and celebrated their contributions – as well as championing liberal causes such as gay rights – 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 U.S. banks and auto companies, for example, declined to comment in response to Reuters inquiries.

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.

Bigger companies such as Apple Inc, Google and Microsoft Corp offered legal aid to employees affected by the order, according to letters sent to staff. Several Silicon Valley executives 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 has faced opposition on social media for agreeing to be part of the advisory group. Kalanick in a Facebook post on Sunday (January 29) called the immigration ban “wrong and unjust” and said that Uber would create a $3 million fund to help drivers with immigration issues.

“They (tech firms) need the high skilled labour and often the talent pool in the U.S. just isn’t enough and they need to go abroad. And what they’re concerned about is not so much these specific changes which aren’t so much going to impact they way they are employing on a day to day basis but probably just the direction of travel. I think that probably applies to markets in general as well as just the tech sector. If these steps are the first steps in a series of tighter immigration policies then that could curtail the kind of talent they need to grow their businesses,” said Jasper Lawler, Senior Market Analyst at London Capital Group.

The tech industry also has other issues where it may find itself opposed to Trump, including trade policy and cyber security.

The president of Mountain View, California-based startup incubator Y Combinator, Sam Altman, wrote a widely read blog post urging tech leaders to band together against the immigration order. He said he has spoken with a variety of people about organizing but remains unsure about the best course of action.

At Lyft, co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged on the company’s blog to donate a million dollars 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 a 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.

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 United States proves impossible.

Lawler said Trump may not be too worried about the outcry from the tech sector adding: “The reason why Donald Trump is probably not as concerned about what Silicon Valley has to say in general in terms of job creation in the U.S. is because if you look at the number of employees at some of these tech firms, Google is out there with 60,000 plus employees but if you look at Facebook, with 15,000, and Netflix – the CEO of Netflix was very outspoken about this more – with around the 3,000 mark, then compare that with someone like Ford or GM, where Trump has been very outspoken, with 200,000 plus employees then you begin to realise where Trump’s focus is and why he’s not so concerned about these tech specific comments.”