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Tech calls Trump immigration ban 'bigotry' and 'un-American'

The tech industry is striking back at President Donald Trump's immigration order, saying it hurts employees and divides the country.

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Protesters rally against President Trump's immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

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The honeymoon is over.

Mere hours after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday temporarily barring immigration to the States from seven countries, tech industry executives began publishing notices criticizing the new regulation and warning employees of its potential broad and dramatic impacts.

From Apple, Google and Facebook to Microsoft, Airbnb and Box, the message was pretty much the same: Limiting immigration hurts employees and innovation.

"Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an email to employees, in which he also promised the company would do what it can to help staff affected by the order. He also said the order "is not a policy we support."

Some tech VIPs were more forceful. "This is a breach of America's contract with all the immigrants in the nation," wrote Sam Altman, head of Y Combinator, which has invested in more than 900 startups, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit and Instacart.

And others outright slammed the president. "Trump's order is simple bigotry," tweeted Pierre Omidyar, eBay's founder who also started a media company called First Look.

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Demonstrations against the ban, such as this one in New York City's Battery Park on Sunday, continued through the weekend.

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Together, the statements mark a turning point in Trump's relationship with the tech industry. With few exceptions, Silicon Valley executives have spent the last decade campaigning and fund-raising for former President Barack Obama and presidential contender Hillary Clinton, making clear their support for Democrats and the party's causes like net neutrality, expanded education and LGBT rights.

Following Trump's surprise win, 13 tech execs met with him at Trump Tower in New York, discussing issues such as investment, trade and, yes, immigration policy. It appeared at the time that industry executives were cautiously preparing to work with him.

"We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation," Trump said then. "Anything we can do to help this go along, we're going to be there for you."

Some of the executives have taken Trump up on his offer. Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and Facebook board member who gave a speech at the Republican National Convention last year, has become an advisor to Trump's team. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick have joined a strategic forum of business leaders advising Trump. Apple's Cook has been spotted meeting with administration officials around Washington, while Google has stepped up its lobbying efforts.

Trump's immigration moves may throw a wrench in that budding relationship, though. The tech industry may now choose to flex its political muscle against the president, and do it more often.

"Them being silent on this issue would be foolish," said Joe Tuman, a professor at San Francisco State University and a former Oakland mayoral candidate. Tuman said the tech industry's competitive talent pool means it needs the best of the best, regardless of what country they come from. "Frankly, they may have more trouble ahead if they don't say anything."

Tech CEOs met with Trump last year in New York.

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The 90-day ban, which has been temporarily halted by a judge and challenged by the state of Washington, with declarations signed by Amazon and Expedia supporting the case. The order affects immigrants from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.

Throughout the weekend it appears the details were shifting though. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday morning that green card holders wouldn't be affected. But he later added, "if you're traveling back and forth you're going to be subjected to further screening."

Regardless, the administration appeared to have little taste for the international backlash against the ban. Kellyanne Conway, a Trump administration spokeswoman, tweeted, "Get used to it," and promised the president was "just getting started."

The White House didn't respond to a request for further comment.

Against the president

As the ink dried on Trump's immigration order, news spread that border patrol agents were almost immediately implementing it, raising concerns that tech workers who have green cards but otherwise aren't yet US citizens might not be able to return from overseas vacations or business trips.

Google, for example, recalled employees it thought could be affected back to the US. Other companies vowed to provide legal help for staff who might get caught up in the ban.

As news has spread, tech companies have been putting out statements against the move. Several noted that Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, was the child of a Syrian immigrant. Other notable companies were founded by first- and second-generation immigrants as well, they said.

Some said they too were immigrants who could just as easily be affected if their circumstances were different.

"As an immigrant and as a CEO, I've both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world," wrote Microsoft chief Satya Nadella.

Others responded with donations to advocacy groups. Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, promised a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against the order. Chris Sacca, an early Twitter investor, promised to match donations up to $150,000. Lyft also announced Sunday that its "defending its values" by donating $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years.

Hiroshi Mikitani, head of the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, said his company's Viber messaging service will offer free international calls from the US to all the banned countries. "My dad is crying in the heaven. He went to Harvard, Stanford and Yale," he tweeted. "He was so proud and I am too. Now I am really crying."

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called Trump's actions un-American and said they'd make the country " less safe (through hatred and loss of allies) rather than more safe."

Musk called many of the people affected by the ban "strong supporters of the US" and said "they've done right, not wrong and don't deserve to be rejected." He also said a "blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country's challenges."

And Google's employees held protests at its various campuses Monday, posting to social networks with the hashtag #GooglersUnite.

Others took a more philosophical tone. Apple's Cook closed his message to employees with a quote from the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.: "We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now."

Others still are offering up some practical goods. Airbnb, for example, is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. And Uber is reaching out to its immigrants drivers who might be affected.

First published Jan. 28, 4:18 p.m. PT.

Update, 7:45 p.m.: Adds that a judge temporarily halted Trump's order.

Update, 10:19 a.m. PT Jan. 29: Adds White House chief of staff comment about green card holders and Lyft, Airbnb and Uber efforts.

Update, 7:45 a.m. PT Jan. 30: Adds Rakuten/Viber comment and phone calls offer.

Update, 2:00 p.m. PT Jan. 30: Adds state of Washington suit.

Update, 3:35 p.m. PT Jan. 30: Adds Google employee protests.

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