Economy First Look

Why Uber faces backlash amid immigration ban

The #DeleteUber movement aims to punish the ride-hailing company for apparently exploiting a taxi protest against President Trump's immigrant ban and for its CEO's ties to the White House.

The ride-hailing company Uber is facing a backlash after it allegedly broke a taxi strike against President Trump's travel ban
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A movement urging people to #DeleteUber from their phones has spread across social media as the ride-hailing service comes under fire for what some see as supporting, or at least exploiting, President Trump's executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. 

While taxi drivers with the NY Taxi Workers Alliance joined the protest against the immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport this weekend by refusing to offer services to or from the airport, Uber continued to conduct business as usual, causing some opponents of the ban to accuse drivers of profiting off of a refugee crisis. 

Meanwhile, Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has come under fire for agreeing to attend a business advisory group meeting with the president in Washington on Friday. Mr. Kalanick defended his participation on the advisory panel by citing his "belief that by speaking up and engaging we can make a difference," and said in a Facebook post that he would raise his concerns about the ban directly with Mr. Trump when he sees him.

But some critics say that by participating he is implicitly supporting Trump's policies, despite Kalanick's promise that the company will find a way to compensate and provide legal support to Uber drivers stuck overseas because of the ban. Uber also announced it would create a $3 million legal defense fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services.

The appointment of Kalanick and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum in December came the same day that the then-president-elect held a friendly meeting with Silicon Valley leaders, marking what some saw as a potential turning point in the relationship between the tech industry and the incoming Trump administration. As The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time:

The president-elect and a number of high-profile Silicon Valley executives – including Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, and Apple's Tim Cook – convened at Trump Tower on Wednesday for a genial gathering, during which Mr. Trump referred to his guests as "amazing" people and reminded them that he was "here to help you folks do well." The meeting, described by one technology reporter as a "watershed moment" for the tech industry, came hours after an announcement that Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, both outspoken critics of Trump during his campaign, would be taking on strategic adviser positions as part of the president-elect's Strategic and Policy Forum. 

To industry observers, Wednesday's developments marked a distinct shift in tone for the relationship between Trump and an industry that overwhelmingly supported his rival, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, for president. And while it's still too early to tell what that relationship will look like over the next four years, they see potential for cooperation following a heated campaign during which the president-elect openly feuded with some of the very executives who gathered at Trump Tower this week. 

But cooperation on the issue of immigration appears increasingly unlikely. A number of tech companies released statements condemning the immigration ban in the days after it was announced, including ride-hailing app Lyft, a direct competitor of Uber. In a Sunday blog post, Lyft's founders described the ban as "antithetical to both Lyft's and our nation's core values" and promised to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the next four years.

Other Silicon Valley leaders, such as Paul Murphy, chief executive officer of the mobile gaming company Dots, are now urging their fellow CEOs to take a stronger stand against the executive order and others like it.

"Maybe this will give them more courage to stand up. I know there’s this constant balance of not wanting to appear partisan and not wanting to be perceived as opportunistic, but this just shatters all partisan lines,"  said Mr. Murphy to The Daily Beast. "Over half of our team is racial, gender, or ethnic minorities. This hits close to home for us."

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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