I try really hard to stay away from politics in this blog. I know I occasionally betray my leanings, but by and large I try to keep this space out of my fray. But I have to say that as I tried to come up with a blog post this week, I could not think about anything at all but the horrific executive order that Donald Trump has signed making it nearly impossible for Muslims to enter the country. It’s beyond words how disconnected this is from the American values I was taught and the tenets upon which the country was created. Sorry for those who disagree, but this is all I could think about and thus this is all I could write about.
The topic is particularly meaningful for those of us who work in or near the technology economy. California is the number one state when it comes to economic contribution to America. We are the 6th largest economic power in the world. And a huge portion of that success comes as a direct result of the melting pot we call home and the tech economy that produces much of our wealth.
Are you reading this post on your smart phone while wearing blue jeans? Well neither of those wouldn’t exist were it not for a Syrian immigrant’s son, Steve Jobs, and a Latvian immigrant, Levi Strauss. Selling your tickets on eBay? Well it’s founder, Pierre Omidyar is of Iranian descent and would likely get turned away at JFK today. Getting your medical advice from Dr. Oz? A Muslim too.
In that every single person on American soil who is not Native American is an immigrant of one kind or another or a descendant of one, this whole thing is mind-boggling. Without immigrants, we have basically none of our modern pleasures or conveniences. We certainly don’t maintain the technological leadership we enjoy in the world. Companies such as Google, Ebay, Qualcomm and Intel were founded by immigrants. In fact, 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children and those companies produce over $4.2 trillion in annual revenue. And even more relevant to those of us hangers on in the tech economy: 45% of tech companies on the Fortune 500 were started by immigrants or their children.
Take away our immigrants and you take away our economy, particularly since the top 500 companies employ 10 million people. And given that he of the small hands has built his platform on jobs and economic prosperity, at least in part, he obviously hasn’t read the fine print.
Every kid in this country learns that America was founded by immigrants fleeing religious persecution. While our country has leaned to the Christian since it’s founding, it has not, as a country based on the rule of law, actively excluded people from the country on the basis of religion. I’m not saying that we haven’t persecuted people along the way, but we haven’t been able to sustain policies (because the Supreme Court shut them down) that favor one religion over another. There’s that whole Constitution thing which specifically says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
By and large the First Amendment is not meant to be suggestive. So how does that foot with stopping green card holders who are upstanding American contributors (doctors, lawyers, military advisors, you name it) being stopped at our border and turned away? As anyone who is Japanese can tell you, that used to be them. Today it’s certain Muslims (not all, apparently, because some predominantly Muslim countries are better than others?); tomorrow it could be anyone – Jews, gays, Hispanics, journalists, women who had abortions, people with small hands. Anyone. And by the way, I’m all for keeping the bad guys out of America, but about a quarter of the entire world population is Muslim so we are going to have to be a tad more precise.
Let’s just forget for a moment any feelings for social justice one might have and say, fine, let’s live in a world of only Christian white people. If that’s where we are headed, we had better hunker down for the next Great Depression, because it will be rapidly on its way. The kitchen in which we whip up our economic prosperity is most famous for its melting pot, and this is a dish best made with a lot of different spices.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and himself a refugee, was at SFO protesting this weekend because he knows first hand what’s at stake. Google said that approximately 187 of its employees are directly affected by the order. The CEOs of Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Tesla Motors have actively voiced their opposition to the executive order, which “affect their own employees working here legally, as well as their competitive quest for talent.”
And lest we forget that most of our large companies are now global. If we establish policies that punish are heretofore trade partners, it’s coming right back at us. Are we trying to create jobs or kill them? Are we hoping for a world of better opportunity or one where the world’s powers stands together in our way to punish us for our own short-sightedness? If we keep going like this, there’s going to come a time real soon where the rest of the world will gladly pay to build a wall all the way around us so we can’t get out and bug them. If they’re smart they’ll keep Hawaii on their side, which makes it even worse.