Google, Facebook reflect tech dismay on Trump immigration order
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SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 29 — Alphabet Inc’s Google asked staffers who may be affected by a new executive order on immigration to return to the US quickly, joining a growing number of technology executives voicing concerns over restrictions that could interfere with how they do business.
Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai slammed President Donald Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, telling them that more than 100 company staff are affected by the order. Microsoft Corp said it’s in touch with 76 staffers from the seven countries identified in the executive order.
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
The comments underscore a growing rift between the Trump administration and several large US technology companies, which include many immigrants in their ranks and have lobbied for fewer immigration restrictions. Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg voiced concern over the policy on Friday, and Airbnb Inc CEO Brian Chesky said yesterday in a tweet that “closing doors further divides” people.
Uber Technologies Inc CEO Travis Kalanick said yesterday that he plans to outline his misgivings about the order at the first meeting of the Trump administration’s business advisory group next Friday in Washington.
Uber has about a dozen staffers affected by the order, as well as a number of drivers, Kalanik said in an e-mailed statement.
“This order has far broader implications as it also affects thousands of drivers who use Uber and come from the listed countries, many of whom take long breaks to go back home to see their extended family. These drivers currently outside of the US will not be able to get back into the country for 90 days,” he said. He said his company was working out a plan to compensate those drivers stranded abroad.
Trump signed the executive order on Friday prohibiting entry by people from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days. Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen would be banned from entering the US for the period, while the government determines what information it needs to safely admit visitors.
Some visa and green-card holders were blocked from boarding flights to the US after the order was issued and several people were being detained at US airports when they arrived, The New York Times reported. The Department of Homeland Security issued a directive on Friday afternoon ordering the Customs and Border Control agency to enforce the order immediately.
Barriers for talent
“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 US,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”
Some Google employees were travelling abroad and were trying to get back to the US before the order took effect. The company asked them to reach out to Google’s security, travel, and immigration teams for assistance, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person asked not to be identified talking about internal company communications.
Google declined to say yesterday whether any employees were detained or blocked from boarding flights.
The employees in question normally work in the US but just happened to be abroad either on work assignments or vacations. One employee rushed back from a trip to New Zealand to make it into the US before the order was signed, Google’s Pichai wrote in his memo.
“We are advising our clients from those seven countries who have green cards or any type of H-1B visa not to travel outside the US,” said Ava Benach, a partner at immigration law firm Benach Collopy LLP, while noting that the order takes effect immediately.
“No one is really sure whether a green card holder from these seven countries can return to the US now. It’s fairly clear that an H-1B visa holder can’t,” Benach said. The H-1B lets US companies employ graduate-level workers from other countries in technical occupations such as technology, engineering and science.
“If anyone in these situations has the misfortune to have gone abroad recently, it’s a treacherous moment, possibly for green card holders too,” Benach said.
Other technology companies are likely in a similar situation, she added.
Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said yesterday in a memo to staff that the company is working with affected personnel and that it supports immigration policies that “protect the public without sacrificing people’s freedom of expression or religion.”
Microsoft also affirms “the importance of protecting legitimate and law-abiding refugees whose very lives may be at stake in immigration proceedings,” Smith wrote.
The company included language in a securities filing on Thursday on the issue, cautioning investors that immigration restrictions “may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts.”
Facebook’s Zuckerberg said Friday that he was “concerned” by Trump’s recent moves to restrict immigration. — Bloomberg