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Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants provokes criticism

Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants has provoked sharp criticism from US corporations, pitching the US president into an epic clash over US values and the legality of the new measures just one week into his presidency.

A growing chorus of condemnation rose from the tech sector on Saturday, with companies including Google, Microsoft and Uber issuing statements of concern over the new policy. The founders of many of Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies have family ties to the countries singled out by Mr Trump’s order, including Steve Jobs, whose biological father was a Syrian refugee. 

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, wrote in a memo to staff, that was obtained by the FT, that the ban was “not a policy we [Apple] support” and the company “reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company”.

“Apple is open. Open to everyone, no matter where they come from, which language they speak, who they love or how they worship,” Mr Cook wrote. 

Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick said the order would affect around a dozen Uber employees as well as thousands of Uber drivers. The company said it would compensate “pro-bono” those drivers who found themselves out of the country when the ban took effect and would thus spend the next 90 days unable “to earn a living and support their families”.

Mr Kalanick said he believed the ban would “impact many innocent people” and planned to tell Mr Trump as much when he, and other members of Mr Trump’s business advisory board, met with the president in Washington next Friday.

Meahwhile Microsoft said it was “actively working to provide legal advice and assistance” to its employees from listed countries, pointing out that all of them were in the US legally. Airbnb’s chief executive also criticised the move. “Closing doors further divides US,” Brian Chesky said via tweet. “Let’s all find ways to connect people, not separate them.” 

Tech companies say that Mr Trump’s immigration policies are already undercutting their ability to recruit and retain engineering talent from overseas. Amit Kumar, chief executive of software company Trimian, told the FT that many start-ups are increasing the size of their branch offices outside the US as a result.

“The shift was immediate, it was dramatic, people are thinking what is the right county to base their operations in,” Mr Kumar said. “I see that across the board.”

Many foreign-born tech workers, even those who have become US citizens, are grappling with the shift in immigration policies. “It doesn’t seem like we are as welcome as we were the day before,” Mr Kumar added.

Google, which has urged some staff travelling overseas to return immediately, criticised the programme and pledged to raise concerns with politicians in Washington. 

“We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US,” the company said.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, on Friday also criticised the programme. “We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat,” Mr Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.

“Expanding the focus of law enforcement beyond people who are real threats would make all Americans less safe by diverting resources, while millions of undocumented folks who don’t pose a threat will live in fear of deportation,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Later Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who is on Mr Trump’s economic advisory group, also condemned the ban.

“Trump’s actions are hurting Netflix employees around the world, and are so un-American it pains us all,” Mr Hastings wrote on Facebook. “Worse, these actions will make America less safe (through hatred and loss of allies) rather than more safe.”

Mr Musk said: “Many people negatively affected by this policy are strong supporters of the US. They’ve done right,not wrong & don’t deserve to be rejected . . . The blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country’s challenges.”

The executive order is the latest example of a move by Mr Trump that could impact US companies, but places firms that do not want to antagonise him in a bind. Delta Airlines, American Airlines, GM, Chrysler, Caterpillar, Citigroup, Bank of America and Pfeizer all declined to comment. And United Airlines said it was working with the government to comply with the order, while T-Mobile US said it did not yet “have enough information” to say how many of its staff, if any, had been affected.

Corporations were not the only groups to speak out against the ban, however. Foreign leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Francois Hollande, and the Iranian foreign ministry also condemned Mr Trump’s move, as did many Democrats and some Republicans.

“The kind of discourse now coming from the US encourages populism, and even extremism,” Mr Hollande declared at a meeting of southern European leaders in Lisbon on Saturday.

Senior Democrats in Congress were quick to condemn the ban, which was a key part of Mr Trump’s campaign platform, but which many believed would not go into effect.

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said: “As the Statue of Liberty holds her torch of welcome high, there are tears in her eyes as she sees how low this administration has stooped in its callousness toward mothers and children escaping war-torn Syria. This administration has mistaken cruelty for strength and prejudice for strategy.”

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic congressman from New York, called the ban “discriminatory” and “disgusting”, while taking part in a protest outside JFK airport on Saturday.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, also criticised the ban, calling the order “too broad”. “If we send a signal to the Middle East that the US sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion,” he said.

In a statement, House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said he supported Mr Trump’s move.

“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process . . . President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country,” Mr Ryan said.

One congressional aide pushed against suggestions that the ban was far-reaching.

“This order does not affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world. It does not affect a large number of nations that are Muslim-majority,” said the aide. “The visa suspension is focused only on those nations where terrorism is a particular concern.” 

Yet even Dick Cheney, the former vice president and a staunch conservative, has previously criticised the ban, saying it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in”.

Reporting by Courtney Weaver and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington, Leslie Hook and Hannah Kuchler in San Francisco, David Crow and Alistair Gray in New York, Patti Waldmeir in Chicago and Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in Paris

Via FT