A 'distortion' of American promise: Tech CEOs denounce travel ban

Chief Tech Correspondent
Yahoo Finance
Several Silicon Valley CEOs Yahoo Finance spoke to expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Trump’s travel ban. Source: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Several Silicon Valley CEOs Yahoo Finance spoke to expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Trump’s travel ban. Source: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Several Silicon Valley CEOs expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to uphold President Trump’s travel ban. The ban limits travel from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — as well as travelers from North Korea and Venezuela.

“We stand for the American promise, that we’re all worthy of protection, we’re all equal, and we all count, and as an immigrant myself, we denounce today’s distortion of that promise,” Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann told Yahoo Finance.

Over 100 companies, including Amazon (AMZN), Salesforce (CRM), Snap (SNAP), and Yahoo Finance’s parent Verizon (VZ), filed an amicus brief opposing the ban. They contended it “makes it more difficult for them to hire the very best talent, to send their employees abroad, to grow their operations, and, fundamentally, to compete in the global economy.”

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky briefly weighed in via Twitter:

Andre Haddad, CEO of the car-sharing service Turo, which also signed the amicus brief, expressed similar sentiments. The serial entrepreneur fled Beirut, Lebanon for Paris after his family home was bombed during the Lebanese Civil war, before eventually immigrating to the U.S. Haddad contends Turo would be an inferior experience were it not for the diverse make-up of the company’s employees and car-owners who share their cars with over 5 million users.

“There’s a lot that immigrants bring,” Haddad explains. “I think with immigrants and refugees in particular, we get the benefits of having people who ‘over-index’ on the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m convinced we should welcome these people not just from a moral standpoint but also from a financial standpoint.”

Indeed, despite the White House’s nationalistic stance — one that also has come down harder on illegal immigrants more recently by separating immigrant children from their families — immigrants continue to play an important role in Silicon Valley innovation. Roughly 50% of the country’s “unicorns” — private companies with $1 billion-plus valuations — had at least one immigrant founder at the helm, according to a report from March 2017 published by the National Foundation For American Policy.

Matt Mahan, CEO of the civic action app Brigade, took a somewhat contrarian view, contending the Supreme Court’s decision wouldn’t have an immediate impact on his company or the tech sector. However, the move does raise red flags for other reasons. Mahan contends the travel ban appears to be motivated by fear of a particular group of people — in this case, Muslims — and continues the United States’s long-term trend toward consolidating power within the executive branch.

“I do think the decision moves the country in the wrong direction for two reasons: First, despite the court’s caveats, the ban is clearly motivated by fear of a particular group of people, Muslims, which violates our founding principle of religious freedom,” Mahan explained. “Second, it continues the long-term trend toward consolidating power within the executive branch, which is something our Founding Fathers greatly feared.”

If Mahan is correct, that certainly doesn’t spell good news for sectors like tech, regardless of whether such moves have a short-term impact on innovation.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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