Last year, Robbie Santos enrolled in a coding bootcamp to become a web developer. He wanted to learn a skill that is in demand everywhere in the world. Santos is bracing for a future outside the U.S. because he, like many undocumented immigrants, is afraid President Donald Trump will deport him.
Santos, 29, is one of the approximately 750,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are currently covered by President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, as it is known, gives legal work permits to these individuals and keeps them safe from deportation.
"Faced with the real possibility that I might have to start my career or my future somewhere else, this is probably the best way to set myself up for that kind of future," said Santos, a DACA recipient who came to the U.S. from the Philippines in the early 1990s.
"We are going to deal with DACA with heart," Trump said. "The DACA situation is a very, very difficult thing for me because I love these kids. I love kids. I have kids and grandkids, and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do."
Nonetheless, Trump has ramped up the arrests of undocumented immigrants, and at least one DACA recipient has already been detained. Now, proponents of DACA are looking to the tech industry for help. This is because Silicon Valley made a big show of its support for immigrants and opposition to Trump's travel ban. Just where the industry stands on DACA, however, remains unclear.
The tech industry has never supported DACA recipients as strongly as it supports H-1B workers, but there are signs from key leaders that this could change.
After signaling cautious openness to Trump, big tech firms leaped to oppose the travel ban. Companies and leaders donated millions to the ACLU. They made thunderous statements, and they took legal action. That's because the tech industry was founded by immigrants -- Elon Musk, Satya Nadella and Sergey Brin are just a few prominent foreign-born CEOs -- and it relies heavily on foreign workers, particularly those on H-1B visas.
Many in tech feel that the industry cannot create what it does without these immigrants, but when it comes to DACA, the feeling is not the same.
There are no iconic tech leaders who were once undocumented. DACA recipients work at tech companies, but their immigration status is often kept secret. Undocumented workers contribute to Silicon Valley -- as agriculture workers, janitors and cooks -- but are often forgotten.
"Who feeds them? Who drives their buses and their Ubers?" said entrepreneur Laura Gomez, who was once an undocumented immigrant. Gomez, the CEO of Bay Area startup Atipica, does not expect the industry to fight for DACA.
Discussions about immigrants in Silicon Valley tend of focus on technical talent, not their ability to contribute to society in other ways, said Gomez. "A lot of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have contributed greatly to this country through their labor," she said.
Among opponents and supporters of DACA there is one commonality: both sides expect Trump to end the program.
"Of all of Trump's immigration-related promises, ending DACA would be the easiest," said Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization. All it takes is "a memo to [the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] ordering the agency to stop processing renewals and discontinue accepting new applications."
That is why groups that support undocumented immigrants are asking tech leaders and companies to take action before the White House does.
"Truth be told, leaders shouldn't wait for something negative to happen," said Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, a group that promotes Latino political organizing. "Voices need to be heard now."
In their pro-immigration statements following the travel ban, most tech companies did not address DACA. When reached by this reporter, many individuals did not know what DACA was. One grassroots group of tech workers that has labeled itself Tech Stands Up to Trump and has opposed Trump's travel ban declined to talk about DACA.
"Little to no action from tech says a lot," Gomez said.
If tech speaks up when it comes to DACA it will be for philosophical reasons, said Duolingo CEO Luis Von Ahn, who is an immigrant from Guatemala. The industry will fight to prevent Trump from setting an anti-immigration precedent.
"I think that there will be some response, but I don't think that it'll be as big as what we would get for something like the H-1B program," Von Ahn said.
Though Von Ahn and Gomez doubt their peers will spend much of their political capital defending DACA, there have been some notable exceptions already.
"Right now, 750,000 Dreamers benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows them to live and work legally in the U.S.," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his statement following Trump's travel ban. "I hope the President and his team keep these protections in place, and over the next few weeks I'll be working with our team at FWD.us to find ways we can help."
FWD.us, which is the tech industry's group that lobbies for comprehensive immigration reform, has also made DACA a main focus.
"DACA recipients include individuals like a software engineer who is building smart hardware; an entrepreneur who is investing in early-stage technologies to develop robots, sensors, and artificial intelligence; a Ph.D student in mathematical biology; and a math teacher responsible for educating the next generation of STEM leaders in classrooms across the country," a spokeswoman for FWD.us said.
Another supporter of DACA has been influential investor Chris Sacca.
"Even if you look past the cruelty of ripping apart families and just see this through the lens of a businessperson, study after study have shown that our economy needs DACA workers. Period," Sacca told Inc. "They contribute much more to America than they take."
Most passionate was a statement from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who made Microsoft's support for the DACA program clear in a recent note posted on LinkedIn.
"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," Nadella said. "We will continue to advocate on this important topic."