"Nothing about this ban makes sense." That's Box CEO Aaron Levie, talking Saturday about the harsh anti-immigration policies enacted by the White House that have resulted in the detention of countless refugees, travelers, and visa holders originating from predominantly Muslim portions of the world.
Levie was one of the first prominent Silicon Valley CEOs to speak out about the so-called Muslim ban, but his words are stirring echoes across the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the wider technology industry. Just one week into the presidency of Donald Trump, industry leaders who initially took a wait-and-see attitude toward the new administration and its policies are scrambling to distance themselves and even joining in the protest.
Using executive orders, President Trump has restricted the entrance of most refugees into the United States. He has also suspended entry for travelers--including visa holders and dual citizens--coming from seven countries in the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, and Iran. For now, the ban has been put on hold by an emergency stay coming out of a federal court in New York, but on Saturday, numerous travelers were affected by the orders.
All that is unacceptable to the growing number of tech leaders who have issued statements opposing the ban and urging President Trump to reconsider his actions.
"We're making it incredibly clear publicly and internally about where we stand on this issue and that we do think that it's neither moral or humanitarian nor is it that logical if it's about protecting America," Levie told Inc. "Nothing about this ban makes sense, and it sends a really, really bad signal to the rest of the world."
The most prominent representatives of Silicon Valley chose to give President Trump a chance and work with him by meeting him at his New York office in December. Some, including Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, have even joined the administration as business advisers.
But the White House's aggressive moves on immigration have dispelled that cozy atmosphere. Leaders ranging from Levie to Apple CEO Tim Cook and even Musk himself have publicly stated their opposition to the immigration ban. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made one of the strongest statements, writing that Trump's actions are "un-American" and likely to "make America less safe." Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined protesters flooding San Francisco International Airport Saturday night, telling one reporter he was there because he originally came to the U.S. as a refugee.
Some, such as Levie, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and venture capitalist Chris Sacca have gone further by publicly offering to match donations to the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization whose actions prompted the emergency stay. Most notably, ride-hailing giant Lyft committed to giving $1 million to the ACLU.
"Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft's and our nation's core values," the company said Sunday. "We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community."
These tech leaders argue that these actions are un-American and morally wrong. Beyond that, this type of ban hurts American businesses. Silicon Valley companies rely on talent from around the globe to build their products. They also seek to serve wide audiences, which means they must be able to serve people of all backgrounds, countries, and religions.
"I can't even think of a single business that would benefit from this. I think it is disastrous," Levie says. "We need amazing talent from everywhere around the world. We need people to trust that when they come to America, America will be a place where they can be included and they can participate in our communities and our culture."
Among the very few tech companies that have signaled support for President Trump's actions is Gab, a young Austin startup with similar features to those of Twitter. Gab has risen in popularity particularly among supporters of the alt-right, a white nationalist and white supremacist movement.
"Unlike other technology companies, Gab supports President Trump's national security measures with full faith and confidence. We believe that labeling this executive order as a 'Muslim ban' is a dishonest misnomer and fake news. Nowhere in the executive order are the words 'Muslim,' 'Islam,' or 'Islamic' mentioned," Gab said in its statement. The company also pointed out that the tech industry lacked similar outrage when the Obama administration stopped processing Iraqi refugees for a period in 2011.
"As an American company, we believe that the national security of American citizens trumps the virtue signaling of popular technology companies and the dishonest reporting being perpetuated by the media," Gab said. "We stand with President Trump and are happy to see the national security interests of American citizens be at the forefront of his administration's policies."
Gab, however, seems to be virtually alone in its support. Tech companies that have come out in opposition to President Trump's orders include Box, Lyft, Tesla Motors, Square, Apple, Google, Airbnb, Pinterest, Dropbox, Stripe, and others. Many more companies have also issued statements that do not explicitly oppose the ban but express compassion for employees and humans in general who are affected. Statements of that nature were issued by the likes of Amazon, IBM, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, and others.
Even those who have argued for giving Trump a sympathetic hearing are changing their messages. Just four weeks ago, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, was saying he believed Trump only wanted "what's best for our country." Now, he is joining his voice to those decrying the ban and its author.
"Blocking access en masse of employees of U.S. companies who are lawful visa and green card holders based on religion or national origin raises constitutional issues, hurts our nation--both morally and economically--and runs counter to our country's long-standing values," Shapiro said in a statement. "Preventing the best and brightest from entering our country undercuts one of America's competitive advantages. Immigrants are vital to our nation's economic vitality."
Levie says he has been urging his peers within the industry to also speak up and use their influence to oppose President Trump. He says tech employees and consumers can expect the tech industry to continue countering the president through their statements and contributions to the ACLU. The industry will also likely use its influence in Washington to lobby against these anti-immigration actions, Levie says.
"If you don't make a stand in these kinds of moments, it's not exactly clear when you would make a stand and what you would stand for," Levie says. "This crosses a threshold."