Silicon Valley’s Biggest Companies Denounce the Immigration Ban in Court

Nearly 100 tech giants—some of them rivals—have co-signed a legal brief arguing against the Trump administration’s controversial executive order.

Donald Trump at a meeting in December with the tech investor Peter Thiel, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, and Oracle's CEO, Safra Catz
Donald Trump at a meeting in December with the tech investor Peter Thiel, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, and Oracle's CEO, Safra Catz (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

In the week-and-a-half since President Trump signed an executive order that would limit immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, the tech industry has emerged as one of the most politically vocal sectors of American business. Many Silicon Valley CEOs have spoken out against the ban, and others have offered to facilitate services or set up legal funds for some of those affected by the order. This makes sense: Tech companies not only draw their talent heavily from overseas, but also frequently couch their work in progressive, idealistic terms, crafting “social missions” and making commitments to do-gooding.

On Sunday, while a third of the nation’s gaze was fixed on the Super Bowl, a tech-heavy collection of nearly 100 companies took the opposition the immigration ban one step further by filing an amicus brief against the Trump administration’s executive order, calling it “unlawful.” The letter— which was filed as the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals weighs the constitutionality of Trump’s order—is a rare coordinated by a group of rivals including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Lyft.

While the legal brief outlines ideological arguments for rescinding the ban, it notably highlights the myriad difficulties that the executive order imposes on business operations. “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 reads. “It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.”

While this bottom-line rationale might carry the most weight for a ban that a majority of Americans seem to support, it is more than a little ironic that some of the executives and investors associated with the companies filing the brief are themselves Trump supporters. As Josh Horwitz at Quartz noted, PayPal, which was founded by the Trump booster Peter Thiel, was one of the signatories on the brief, along with Uber, whose CEO was named to President Trump’s business-advisory council before stepping down amid controversy last week. Thiel is also a key investor in Lyft, Stripe, Airbnb, and Y Combinator, all of which lent their names to Sunday’s legal action.

But more than their ties to Trump, some of these tech behemoths also tend to lack the bona fides that would make them credible champions of workers’ rights. Some of the more idealistic claims in the brief ring hollow: An observer of Uber might note its reliance on contract workers, a practice that has trickled down through the industry and allowed the gig economy to become a model of part-time employment instead of a creator of steady and permanent jobs. And while the pursuit of foreign talent may advantage the teams of developers at Google and Facebook, the workers who toil away driving the campus vans and serving as in-house baristas are not commonly afforded the lavish bounty of benefits given to overseas recruits. (Meanwhile, Airbnb, which also signed the brief, is frequently accused of allowing racist practices and squeezing middle-class renters out of their housing.)

Silicon Valley’s collective stand against the administration’s immigration ban may sway some opponents of the measure, but largely because the industry is making its case in the name of corporate prosperity. Overall, the tech industry’s argument would be more persuasive if it also regularly banded together on behalf of others vulnerable in the United States, such as their own less-skilled employees.