In the face of intense criticism of his initial executive orders restricting travel and immigration to the United States President Trump didn’t back down and didn’t double down. He and his administration calmly and methodically revised and then reissued them. That’s the way things are done in the business world, or at least should be.
The passionate criticisms of Mr. Trump’s actions coming from parts of the American corporate community, especially the ones that dot the landscape of Northern California’s high-tech heaven, were over the top. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company, Alphabet, Inc., went to work almost immediately denouncing the order. He sent a note to company employees that read, in part: “It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues. We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
Mr. Pichai allowed thousands of employees around the world to walk off the job in protest of an order directed only at people seeking to come to the United States from seven countries the previous administration and Congress had ratified as sufficiently unable to combat terrorism. This kind of self-righteous hypocrisy has really been on display in stunning fashion in the corporate sector. To retain its global technology leadership, Silicon Valley relies heavily on immigrants who typically come from countries not named in Mr. Trump’s order. It wants those immigrants but is painfully silent concerning the interests of others who want to come here to work and realize a better life for themselves and their families.
Many of these same companies — more than 100 in all, including many names you would know, signed on to a legal brief filled in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the administration’s original position. It extolled beautifully the virtues of immigration and ventured that those “[w]ho choose to leave everything that is familiar and journey to an unknown land to make a new life necessarily are endowed with drive, creativity, determination — and just plain guts.”
This newfound corporate concern is touching. They were relatively passive concerning immigrant welfare during the last administration. Nearly 2.8 million undocumented immigrants were kicked out of the United States over the course of the Barack Obama’s presidency, so many that even some of his allies were forced to upbraid him. Janet Murguia, president of the National Council on La Raza, went so far as to label him the “deporter in chief.” If you don’t believe me then, pardon the expression, Google it.
That was then. When it comes to Mr. Trump, they’re all in the game to win and are finally putting people ahead of politics. Under Mr. Obama the high-tech industry focused its efforts on getting legislation through Congress that would have let U.S.-educated computer programmers and engineers remain in the country to work in Silicon Valley. While totally self-serving it is nonetheless a virtuous position, but Mr. Obama, faced with opposition from Democrats who wanted more, let it die.
No matter, said the tech titans at Google and other companies who enjoyed more than cozy relations with the White House, the president and the woman who they assumed would succeed him. They put millions into Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign because she told them they were eye-to-eye on the issues that mattered most: net neutrality, set-top boxes and other regulatory policy coming out of the Federal Communications Commission.
Mrs. Clinton was the sure winner. Everyone who relied on “big data” and cutting-edge technology to win elections said so. It seemed like the smart play, especially since the principled position and corporate profit projections actually were in alignment. After all, that’s how Mr. Obama won, right?
Well, no, it wasn’t. The 2016 election wasn’t the first time an obsession with “big data” took a candidate down the wrong road, and it won’t be the last. Now the companies that backed Mrs. Clinton have to make peace with Mr. Trump because, when you look at it, they don’t exactly have their own houses in order.
They’re happy to laud the diversity that comes with immigration in other parts of the work force while protecting the hegemony of their own. Google says it is trying to change but men still hold 81 percent of the technical jobs. Women and underrepresented minorities are part of the work force but are more often found in the nontechnical jobs necessary to any large firm.
The Trump administration was smart enough to realize it needed to make a change after its first round of executive orders landed with a thud in federal court. Its thinking up a strategy to save the second effort now that it, too, has been slammed by a federal judge in Hawaii. Can the high-tech companies that populate Silicon Valley do the same? Can they develop a new strategy for immigration that’s a little more inclusive? The immigrants who clean the glittering corporate palaces and manicure the grounds of multimillionaire homes for low wages remain on edge. They wonder, with good reason, if their kids will ever have a shot at the lucrative technical and management jobs in these firms when they get out of school. Will the pathway to prosperity be kept open for every honest person who wants a better life in America while making it possible for the children of those already here to have the same shot at well-paying high-tech engineering jobs as those companies like Google are in the business of importing? Whatever answer Sundar Pichai (or his successor) has to this question will tell us a lot about the country’s future.
• Peter Roff is a former writer for United Press International and commentator on the One America News network.
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