Top Tech Company Leaders Say They Would Not Exist Without Immigrants

Jan 29, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's executive order is also making waves in the business world. Industries that include tech and travel are reacting strongly, and to learn more about this, we called NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli. Jim, thanks so much for joining us.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So we've had some sharp statements this weekend from the heads of Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter. What are they saying and where does this opposition come from?

ZARROLI: Well, you know, the tech sector relies on a lot of immigrants. The chief executive officer of Microsoft was born in India, so it was Google's CEO. And there's just, I think, culturally a very strong belief that immigration is one of the things that makes the tech sector prosper. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, said in a statement this weekend - he said Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.

And remember, Michel, Steve Jobs' biological father was a Syrian immigrant. The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, said we believe in the importance of protecting legitimate and law-abiding refugees whose lives may be at stake in immigration proceedings. And then just, you know, in practical terms, there are a lot of people who work in the tech sector, you know, who have dual nationals or, you know, they have some kind of work visa. And this really throws their status into some confusion, and it's a problem for their employers.

MARTIN: But what about companies in other industries? Have we heard leaders in other sectors - spoken out? Have they spoken about the ban either for or against?

ZARROLI: Well, they're starting to. I mean, one of the interesting things is the Koch brothers' network which is, of course, not a business, but a very powerful right-wing political fundraising network. It doesn't - it's not a business, but it consists of a lot of business people and represents business interests to some degree. They issued a statement saying the travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive. It said our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people of all cultures and backgrounds.

Then, you know, the travel industry isn't happy about the ban, largely because it's, you know - it's never good for them to have this televised chaos that we've seen at the airports. The head of BMW's North American operations spoke out this weekend. The chief executive of General Electric, Jeff Immelt - very important person in the business world - said GE has many employees from the named countries, and they are critical to our success. And they are our friends and partners. He said that in a - in his staff email. And that...

MARTIN: (Unintelligible).

ZARROLI: ...That's really the thing. I mean, this ban is going be a disruption to a lot of companies, and I think they're still trying to figure out where it's going.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Jim, we have about a minute left. Why do you think more companies have not spoken out one way or the other about this?

ZARROLI: Well, I think one thing was the timing. I mean, this happened late on a Friday, so they maybe haven't had time to respond. But also, you know, President Trump is still very new in office, and I think people are still trying to decide what to make of him. He's, you know, of course, very unpredictable which is scary to a lot of business people, but he's also saying things the business world wants to hear. He wants to do infrastructure spending, cut corporate taxes, get rid of regulations.

I mean, if you're in the oil business, he's promising to do all kinds of things that you want. And also, you know, honestly, Trump has shown he can strike back pretty hard against companies when they do or say something he doesn't like. I mean, look at what happened with Carrier. So I think a lot of companies are just not sure what to say, and they're reluctant to come out and oppose him too much.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, thank you.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.