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Trump Immigration Order Strongly Criticized By Tech Executives


Leaders of major technology companies here in the U.S. are criticizing President Trump's executive order that bans immigrants from some Muslim countries. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, there are growing concerns that the order is going to hurt business.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Silicon Valley prides itself on its openness to immigrants. And it's not just talk. A study by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, found that 51 percent of U.S. startup companies worth more than a billion dollars were founded by immigrants. Yesterday, at the San Francisco International Airport, hundreds of people showed up for the second day in a row to protest the Trump administration's executive order. Joel Parish is an engineer at Apple. He is not an immigrant, but he says many of his colleagues are.

JOEL PARISH: It is a big concern. And some of my best co-workers - the best engineers - are on immigrant visas or have spouses that are on immigrant visas. And so I know they're extremely concerned about this. And it's impacting our ability to travel and do business internationally. We have a global presence.

SYDELL: In an email sent to Apple staff, CEO Tim Cook said the company had employees directly affected by the executive order, and it was offering help. Cook said Apple would not exist without immigration. In fact, its co-founder, Steve Jobs, was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is an immigrant who was born in the Soviet Union and fled to the U.S. with his family as a child. He showed up to yesterday's protest at the San Francisco airport. And today, there were others here from his company. Mani Varadarajan, a software engineer at Google, came to the U.S. from India when he was a year old. He says the Trump administration order was felt immediately at Google.

MANI VARADARAJAN: I did have a friend call me rather frantically - and not a very political friend, but he called me on Friday - who is a Google employee. He manages people. And two employees in his team were told that they shouldn't travel because there's a doubt as to whether they could come back if they did travel.

SYDELL: Until now, many tech leaders were keeping a low profile as to their thoughts on the Trump administration. In December, leaders of the largest tech companies met with Trump, and it appeared friendly. But Friday's executive order definitely changed that. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, is an immigrant and is critical of the Trump administration order. In a memo to staff, he said it was painful to see the personal cost of it on colleagues.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, we need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat. The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, also an immigrant, said his company is committed to helping the 76 employees impacted by the ban. The founders of the ride-hailing service Lyft, which has many immigrant drivers, will donate $1 million to the ACLU. Even immigrant workers not directly covered by the ban say they feel afraid. John Hanna is from Egypt, which isn't on the list.

JOHN HANNA: For me and my wife, I'm concerned, too, if we had to travel at any time. Would it be possible to come back? Would it be a problem with expanding the ban to include Egypt, as well?

SYDELL: Hanna says he knows people who were out of the country when the ban came down, and now they can't get back into the U.S. For its part, the Trump administration says implementation of the travel ban has been a massive success story. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKANA'S "NA PO'O KA LA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and