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Silicon Valley Firms Lock Arms Against Trump Immigration Order

By David Jones
Feb 7, 2017 9:49 AM PT
tech-companies-fight-trump-immigration-order

At least 127 United States companies -- including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Intel and other tech giants -- filed a friend of the court brief in a lawsuit the state of Washington brought against President Trump, which argues that his executive order to halt the entry of refugees and all travelers from seven Muslim nations would inflict significant harm on U. S. businesses.

The brief, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asks the court to consider the disruptive impact that the ban would have on the conduct of business in the U.S.

"The Order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire and retain some of the world's best employees," the brief states. "It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies' ability to attract talent, business and investment to the U.S."

The signatories include a number of major non-technology companies as well, among them Levi Strauss & Co. and Chobani Global Holdings.

The executive order is antithetical to everything Levi Strauss -- itself founded by an immigrant -- stands for, said CEO Chip Bergh in an online post last week.

Restraining Order in Place

The companies filed the brief just days after a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle imposed a temporary restraining order on the executive order. President Trump signed it on Jan. 27, temporarily blocking any incoming travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa, and also suspending the government's Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days.

The order includes an exception for those facing persecution as members of a minority religion should the program resume. The countries involved all have predominantly Muslim populations.

A DoJ request for an emergency stay of the TRO later was denied, and a number of airlines announced they would allow visa holders to resume travel to the U.S. while the legal case moved through the court system.

The DoJ was filed another brief Monday evening, arguing that the executive order is lawful and in the national interest.

"We'll decline to comment beyond our public filings," Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, told the E-Commerce Times.

Supporters Line Up

A coalition of 16 state attorneys general, including those representing Iowa and Pennsylvania, which Trump carried in the presidential election, filed a brief in support of the Washington state and Minnesota cases against the Trump administration.

Their brief argues that the executive order has had a direct impact on foreign students, researchers and faculty at a number of local colleges and universities; has disrupted state medical institutions; and has caused the states to lose tax revenue from students, tourists and business travelers.

Iran, one of the countries subject to the temporary travel ban, sent more than 11,000 students to the U.S. during the 2014-15 academic year, the brief notes.

Silicon Valley officials have expressed major concerns about Trump's immigration policy -- and his tweets -- since early in the campaign, as the technology industry depends heavily on H-1B visa holders for many of its professional class of engineers and programming talent.

"The Internet may be wonderful for daily communication, but eventually all sectors need face-to-face meetings," noted Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager at AccessNow.

"This travel ban will not only undermine business, but it will harm the growth of all international movements," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Billions in Business Deals at Risk

The order created turmoil at airports across the country late last month, as more than 100 travelers were removed from airplanes, detained, or otherwise disrupted due to the ban. More than 100,000 visas were revoked in the aftermath of the ban.

Major technology companies, including Google, and other firms saw major disruptions of travel that impacted workers attempting to return home from overseas. Some of the companies' employees who worked on government visas reportedly were not allowed entry.

The order could result in the loss of major business deals, the companies maintain. For example, U.S. diplomats have warned that General Electric may lose out on business deals in Iraq worth billions of dollars as a result of the order, according to a Feb. 1 story in Politico.

Further, the ban could force foreign companies to grow their operations outside the U.S., and U.S. companies to staff their operations outside of the U.S., they argue.

High-Tech Holdouts

Although many high-profile tech companies have joined in the court battle, some have remained on the sidelines, noted Derecka Mehrens, cofounder of Silicon Valley Rising.

"We hope tech will continue to resist attacks on all immigrant workers, including the largely Latino army of service workers who cook, clean and protect their campuses," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"However we were disappointed to see that some of the core tech companies -- such as Dell, HP, Tesla and Oracle -- didn't sign onto the brief. These companies must recognize how integral immigrants are to their success and to a strong economy," Mehrens added.

"HPE shares the technology industry's serious concerns about the travel ban," the company said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times on Monday by spokesperson Kate Holderness. "In the coming days, and through public means, we'll be adding our voice to the efforts of other companies and industry associations that have expressed similar concerns."

HPE currently is not a signatory to the brief, but HP Inc. added its name on Monday. Tesla also joined the brief on Monday.

Headed for the High Court

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Tuesday afternoon.

"It's relatively difficult to predict how the [court] will rule, but since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is in the heart of the technology industry, they often rule in support of the technology companies," noted Peter Vogel, a partner in the Gardere law firm.

"Nonetheless, it seems likely that no matter what happens in the [appellate court], the final decision will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Given the separation of the judicial, executive and legislative branches," Vogel said, "it is entirely possible the U.S. Supreme Court will be mindful of all amicus briefs and the social impact of the immigration ban."


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.


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