Why big tech firms are at odds with Trump on immigration

For many, the GOP candidate's mass deportation policy conflicts with the vision of a 21st-century economy.

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Las Vegas on Oct. 8.

The US tech industry opposes Donald Trump on immigration reform.

Trump, the real-estate billionaire and second-place GOP Presidential contender, has pledged to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and has called for mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented people currently living in America, on the grounds that they are keeping jobs from US citizens. Todd Schulte, president of Fwd.us – a lobbying firm created by leaders in the tech world, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – said in a release that Trump-style immigration reform is “astounding” and “absurd. Fwd.us advocates for what it calls "common sense immigration reform" – referring to legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people. Supporters see economic practicality in allowing skilled immigrants to work and start businesses in the United States.

Shulte’s statement came after the last GOP debate, when Trump was asked to account for criticizing Zuckerberg’s support for raising the cap on H1-B visas – authorizations that allow US businesses to employ specialized international workers such as engineers and computer programmers – from about 65,000 to between 115,000 and 195,000 visas.

In March, the Associated Press reported that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt urged Congress to raise the visa cap and to deal with other immigration issues down the road.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., Schmidt said having more immigrants would help the United States but his primary concern is allowing more immigrants with specialized technical skills into the country. Schmidt said if Congress would raise the cap on H-1B visas more immigrants would start businesses and hire workers which would grow the US economy. Critics, such as Republican senators Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions, of Iowa and Alabama, respectively, argued that tech companies just want to find cheapest high-skilled workers, saying that US citizens are just as good for the jobs.

An analysis from FindTheData.com reports in 2014 Facebook paid a median salary of $130K to H-1B visa holders, to whom Microsoft paid $114K, and Google paid $125K.

Zuckerberg, in a 2013 interview with The Atlantic Magazine, said “In order to be productive you want to be able to get the best folks into the country.” He said “We all have a bunch of engineering roles that we’re trying to fill.”

Immigration reform is one of the most hotly contested issues of the present political landscape, and the debate between Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t encompass all points of view, such as those who argue for an open-border policy.

Brandon Silverman, founder the startup CrowdTangle – a web analytic firm that tracks trending content on social media – says he has observed a strong consensus within the tech community that raising the cap on H-1Bs would be a massive plus for the industry as a whole. But Silverman, formerly of the non-profit Center for Progressive Leadership, thinks progressives are hoping to use the moment as a chance to get comprehensive reform, rather than addressing an achievable piece of top-tier policy that would help corporate America.

In an interview, Silverman says “I think most progressives favor comprehensive immigration reform, and are afraid doing a piecemeal would mean only certain problems are addressed, and [problems] more connected to poverty and racial inequality, and various other things would get left behind.”

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