Silicon Valley reacts furiously to end of the Dreamers Act

SUMMARY:

The Trump administration’s decision to rescind protection for immigrants brought into the U.S. by their parents under the program for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has touched off a firestorm of criticism from technology executives in Silicon Valley. 

dreamerThe future of so-called Dreamers is in jeopardy. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday morning that people shielded from deportation and allowed to work legally under the DACA program will begin losing their protection next March, unless Congress passes new legislation before that deadline. Those affected are individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children, grew up in this country, attended local schools, obey the law, pay taxes and have registered voluntarily with the federal government for relief under a program that while of dubious legal merit, has never been actively challenged.

Microsoft president Brad Smith issued a statement calling for Congress to “reprioritize the fall legislative calendar” and move quickly with new legislation to protect the 800,000 Dreamers—even before it turns its attention to adopting a new tax reform bill:

We say this even though Microsoft, like many other companies, cares greatly about modernizing the tax system and making it fairer and more competitive. But we need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill. As an employer, we appreciate that Dreamers add to the competitiveness and economic success of our company and the entire nation’s business community. In short, urgent DACA legislation is both an economic imperative and a humanitarian necessity.

Smith goes on to vow that Microsoft will join with other companies and the broader business community to vigorously defend the legal rights of all Dreamers–even if Congress fails to act in the mandated six months:

For the 39 Dreamers that we know of who are our employees, our commitment is clear. If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees. If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal counsel. We will also file an amicus brief and explore whether we can directly intervene in any such case. In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.

Smith is hardly alone. A group of tech’s biggest names, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google CEO Sundar Pichai,  and more than 300 others, signed a group letter to Trump, as well as leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was sent last week, when rumors began that Trump planned to end the program.  The letter warned:

Unless we act now to preserve the DACA program, all 780,000 hardworking young people will lose their ability to work legally in this country, and every one of them will be at immediate risk of deportation. Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions.

Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.

FWD.us is a political action group started four years ago by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to push for immigration reform.  Following Tuesday’s announcement, Zuckerberg posted on Facebook:

This is a sad day for our country. The decision to end DACA is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American Dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it.

Following the announcement of Trump’s decision, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a letter to Apple’s employees saying he is “deeply dismayed” that Dreamers, including at Apple, may be “cast out of the only country they’ve ever called home.”   Added Cook:

DACA recognizes that people who arrived in the United States as children should not be punished for being here illegally. It lets these Americans, who have successfully completed rigorous background investigations, go to school, earn a living, support their families, pay taxes and work toward achieving their dreams like the rest of us. They are called Dreamers, and regardless of where they were born, they deserve our respect as equals.

My take

In leaving a six month window for Congress to act, President Trump has fulfilled one of his key campaign promises—sort of—while managing to pass a very hot political potato to the House and Senate for ultimate resolution.  He has also given the Republicans a bargaining chip for his pet wall project which has lukewarm support in both parties.

The business wing of the GOP—particularly the technology sector—seems to be solidly against eliminating DACA and—as Brad Smith indicated—is prepared to fight the order in court. This cannot be ignored given that Silicon Valley in particular and the U.S. more broadly touts itself as the world leader in technology innovation and has its own difficulty in attracting the best talent. DACA was one way to overcome that problem, providing access to a pool of people who are often considered better educated than equivalent Americans.

The way the announcement was framed and the manner in which the following press Q&A shaped up, the Trump administration is making this issue part of a larger plan to reform immigration law. That’s a complex and gnarly undertaking. Given all the other daunting issues confronting Congress—passing a budget, raising the debt limit, reforming taxes, avoiding war with North Korea—the likelihood that this Congress will agree on anything is somewhere between not likely and none.  In short, as things stand, the Dreamers are going to need a miracle.

Image credit - © gustavofrazao via fotolia

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