As the Appeals Court in the U.S. today unanimously decided not to reinstate the travel ban that impacted visitors from seven countries seen as terror dens, the 127 firms, many of them technology giants, that signed the Amicus Brief last week will have reason for some cheer. They can view it as vindication of their stand, irrespective of whether it was principled or prejudiced.
I am no mood to analyse the 3-0 verdict from the learned judges, its implications and President Donald Trump’s reactions.
But I decided to enlighten myself on what made the tech firms act. The best way to arm myself with the ammunition they fired is to give the Brief a quick read.
Having just done that, I must admit compelling arguments have been put forth by the top American companies in their Amicus Brief on the temporary travel ban. It has given me a grip on what has been riling the technology giants amid the threat perceptions that are making the world take a suspicious, apprehensive view of globalisation.
Rhetorical pronouncements, both for and against the ban, had started streaming in immediately after Mr Trump signed the Executive Order, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” on January 27, 2017.
I formed my own opinion on the order, though I am neither a U.S. resident nor a citizen. That was rooted in the belief that as President, Trump had the mandate to take actions that are in the best interest of the U.S., more so where the nation’s security is involved.
“Built by a Nation of Strangers” – Rich Repository of References
I am glad I took that effort as the Brief introduced me to a rich repository of references, including the remarks made by President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, the law that remains in force even today with national quotas having been eliminated.
Thus goes his statement: “America was built by a nation of strangers…. And from this experience, almost unique in the history of nations, has come America’s attitude toward the rest of the world. We, because of what we are, feel safer and stronger in a world as varied as the people who make it up— a world where no country rules another and all countries can deal with the basic problems of human dignity and deal with those problems in their own way.”
Another quote the Brief brought up was from John F Kennedy who, in 1958, had said: “The contributions of immigrants can be seen in every aspect of our national life. We see it in religion, in politics, in business, in the arts, in education, even in athletics and in entertainment. There is no part of our nation that has not been touched by our immigrant background.”
No Votary of Blind Adherence to the Past
Both remain powerful quotes rooted in reality, pointing to an all-embracing, welcoming culture that served the country well. Both Johnson and Kennedy could not have been wrong.
Nonetheless, I am no votary of convenient raking up of history as circumstances change and blind adherence to the past may not be the right approach to dealing with challenges on the horizon.
That said, I found the Brief brilliantly crafted, raising all the right points pertinent to the opposition of the technology giants and other businesses to the travel ban.
All Big Names in Industry – with Diversity that Nourished the American Way of Life
Among the companies that signed the brief are Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, Adobe, Uber, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Airbnb, eBay and Levi Strauss.
Steve Jobs’ mother was American but his biological father was born into a Muslim household in Syria. The Apple founder was inspired by Buddhism and is said to have had a Buddhist-style wedding.
It is this kind of diversity that nourished the American way of life.
Cisco, IBM and Oracle Not in List
While all the big tech giants have signed the Brief there are some prominent players who have kept away. They include Cisco, IBM and Oracle.
Hewlett Packard and Cisco Systems are generally considered being among the biggest offenders when it comes to firing Americans and hiring foreigners. They are big-time users of the H1-B visas, which allow foreign nationals the right to work in the US.
Mr Trump is also expected to sign another Executive Order on H1-B Visas later. So these tech firms may leave behind tame statements and get aggressively vocal at that stage.
Basis of Argument
Back to the Amicus Brief, among the key points forming the basis of the companies’ argument are:
- American innovation and economic growth are intimately tied to immigration.
- The Executive Order harms the competitiveness of U.S. companies.
- The Executive Order is unlawful.
- The Order discriminates on the basis of nationality.
- The Order exercises discretion arbitrarily.
They are right with their assertion that the blanket ban is unreasonable as it applies to millions of individuals who could not plausibly be terrorists. And, yes, as they say, among them are students, employees, family members of citizens who have already been admitted to the U.S.; visa-holders who have already passed the nation’s rigorous screening process; and peaceful individuals residing or born in the targeted countries.
I still find it an over-reaction as the ban was only meant to be temporary in nature, with a three-month validity.
Apple, Google Among Companies Founded by Immigrants or their Children
I am also impressed with the interesting and powerful messaging the companies rely on to support their argument against the ban which has since been overturned. But the Government may take it to the Supreme Court if its other efforts to restore the ban fail.
- Apple, Kraft, Ford, General Electric, AT&T, Google, McDonald’s, Boeing, and Disney are among the more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, as they point out, “these companies generate annual revenue of $4.2 trillion, and employ millions of Americans.”
- While accounting for 16 per cent of the labour force nationally and 18 per cent of business owners, immigrants make up 28 per cent of Main Street business owners.”
- In 2014, more than 19 per cent of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa were entrepreneurs.
- Immigrants also fuel the growth of the economy as a whole. “When immigrants enter the labour force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives.”
- Immigrants do not take jobs away from U.S. citizens—they create them.
- Immigrants are innovators. Since 2000, more than one-third of all American Nobel prize winners in Chemistry, Medicine, and Physics have been immigrants.
Singapore-Style Familiar Reasoning- Foreign Talent Vs Foreign Mediocrity
The reasoning above may not be far from convincing, the bullets (no pun intended) are strong enough to merit attention.
That reminds me of the explanations advanced by the Singapore Government whenever it launched initiatives to bring in what its leaders call “foreign talent” unmindful of the mediocrity invasion amid tall talk of meritocracy that is restricted to locals.
There is no denying the Syrian roots of Steve Jobs though he was given away in adoption and he grew up in an American household, taking the surname of his adopted father.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a Soviet-born American computer scientist and Levi Strauss was founded by a German immigrant. The CEOs of Microsoft and Google, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai respectively, are immigrants from India.
But the target of the ban are not people like them. For every Sergei Brin or Satya Nadella there are thousands of run-of-the-mill personnel taking away jobs from qualified Americans. In fact, the travel ban is not even aimed at those holding routine jobs.
Trump’s Executive Order was temporary in nature and applied only to seven terrorism-infested countries. Critics may have their own reasons to consider it too sweeping but was Trump wrong in initiating measures to keep American shores safe?
Extreme vetting has already been in place, so I do think an Executive Order was not really needed. The Trump administration could have continued to do it, even with greater rigour, without any loud proclamations.
A prolonged legal tangle appears inevitable now as the issue could go to several courts across the U.S. and eventually reach the Supreme Court.
G Joslin Vethakumar