President Donald Trump’s sweeping immigration order signed late Friday caused an uproar among the tech elite over the weekend.
The executive order bars people from seven primarily Muslim countries — including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the US for at least 90 days. (On Sunday, though, the Trump administration said green card holders from those countries wouldn’t be barred from entry.)
The chief executives, investors and entrepreneurs Yahoo Finance spoke to over the weekend expressed either surprise or disgust at Trump’s latest moves.
“I fundamentally think it’s a disastrous idea and policy, between the moral ramifications and the moral issues around it, which is blocking refugees of countries that, in some cases, are dealing with some pretty significant atrocities, is a huge moral failing of the country,” Aaron Levie, chief executive of Box (BOX) told Yahoo Finance, cautioning there would be major consequences to blocking off the country from large populations of people.
Brit Morin, CEO of the Do-It-Yourself-oriented lifestyle startup Brit + Co in San Francisco, contended her business — and Silicon Valley overall — will be significantly influenced in the months and years to come as Trump pursues a “protectionist” philosophy that favors “America First” and ignores the important contributions immigrants can make to the US economy, particularly to tech.
“The effect this will have on innovation and our competitive advantage aside, the pain that others in our community and their families are facing is heartbreaking,” Morin told Yahoo Finance. “So many of the greatest companies in the US were built by descendants of immigrants — Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. If we start restricting the influx of different cultures and new ideas on any level, it will have a negative impact on our growth as a society. Diversity makes us stronger.”
For other tech entrepreneurs, the immigration ban struck on a more personal level. That’s not exactly a surprise, given roughly 50% of the country’s “unicorns” — private companies with $1 billion-plus valuations — have at least one immigrant founder at the helm, according to a report last March from the National Foundation For American Policy.
“My family and I, and thousands of Soviet Jews like us, came here as refugees in 1991, running from an unjust regime that persecuted us simply for who we were,” recalled Max Levchin, PayPal (PYPL) co-founder and CEO of the credit startup Affirm. “As a nation of immigrants, we must not close our doors to refugees, and those willing to contribute to America’s success.”
Adrian Aoun, chief executive of the healthcare startup Forward, echoed Levchin.
“As a French-Lebanese immigrant, I wouldn’t be here without the open-arms of fellow Americans,” Aoun said. “My work at Wavii, Google and now Forward has been done hand in hand with Muslims and immigrants from across the world. People are not their religions or their countries, they’re our brothers and sisters. Together we are stronger.”
The big question is: now what?
Members of the community such as Hunter Walk, a partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Homebrew, are taking action. During the final months of the 2016 presidential election, Walk led an effort in which over 320 companies, including Square (SQ), Twilio (TWLO) and Spotify, gave their employees time off on Nov. 8 to their cast their votes in the presidential election.
Now, Walk is helping lead the charge with Project ELLIS (Entrepreneurs’ Liberty Link in Silicon Valley ). Started by venture capitalist Michael Dearing, Project ELLIS is focused on helping employees at smaller companies, particularly those affected by Trump’s executive order, with immigration issues.
“Many of us in the tech community are enraged by the events of the past week,” Walk told Yahoo Finance. “Not surprised, because we’ve taken Trump both literally and seriously since he began running a scorched earth campaign for the presidency, but angry that our other elected officials have failed to put country ahead of party. We see which politicians in both parties are standing up and fighting — and will put our dollars, voices and talent behind them now, in 2018 and beyond.”
Others such as Levie made donations to the American Civil Liberties Union, which raised $19 million between Saturday morning and Sunday evening and received 150,000 new member sign-ups.
Meanwhile, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz spent the weekend scrambling to assess whether any Eventbrite employees — 10% of whom work in the US on some type of visa — were impacted. (None were.) Now, she and her husband Kevin also plan on finding ways they can lend the ACLU further support.
“As an events platform and as a ticketing platform, we’re able to provide more support to organizations that want to bring people together for information or for support,” Hartz explained. “I’m working with a team on how we can support the ACLU on the platform. Then I’m giving a call for open ideas because I think more and more things are coming together like Project Ellis.”
These tech entrepreneurs are raising their voices along with heavyweights in the tech world who have already spoken out, including Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, and in the case of Google (GOOG, GOOGL) co-founder Sergey Brin, joined the protests.
Their actions over the last 18 months herald a new chapter for a much more politicized Silicon Valley, an industry where quiet donations once sufficed as “political activism.” But Trump’s anti-trade, anti-immigration rhetoric during the presidential campaign spurred many members in tech to also weigh in heavily on social media, host fundraisers for candidates, and encourage involvement in their community. The president’s executive order is the latest in a series of decisions to catalyze the technorati’s political participation.
“The executive order does not directly affect me — my family are all US citizens — but it does make me wonder who is next on the list,” explained Leila Janah, CEO and founder of Samasource and LXMI. “If Trump can ban visa holders and dual citizens from entering the country, what else will his administration dare to do? It appears that women, religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and low-income people are all at risk of having basic rights curtailed under Trump.”
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