For many recipients of DACA, a controversial program that offers protection to undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, the continued support of the technology industry could help get them their ultimate wish — the opportunity to remain in the US.
That future was the focus of a panel discussion Tuesday evening on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an Obama-era program targeted for dismantling by the Trump administration in September. With the move, hundreds of workers at technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft could be deportable as of March 5, 2018.
For Ron Conway, founder of the SV Angel seed fund and co-founder of the immigration reform organization FWD.us, the tech industry has as much to lose as recipients of DACA, sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”
“In this group [of Dreamers] is the next founder of a great tech company — the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next Sergey Brin,” Conway, wearing a “We are all Dreamers” T-shirt, said during the discussion at Microsoft’s San Francisco office. “We have to get pissed off and call our members of Congress.
“We have to urge Congress to add the DREAM Act to the spending bill,” Conway said, referring to the Dec. 9 deadline to approve a budget avoiding shutdown of the federal government.
The tech community has lobbied for years for immigration-friendly policies, arguing for policies supporting immigration of skilled workers — people that American tech companies say they need to keep their competitive edge.
Other members of the panel included Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama and the current president of the University of California system, and Jack Chen, an assistant general counsel at Microsoft.
“So much of the benefit and innovation in technology comes disproportionately from immigrants,” said Chen, whose boss, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, is himself an immigrant. “We have been a talent magnet for so long and I want to posit that we don’t want to find out what it’ll be like if we no longer are.”
Current law does not give these immigrants a path to become legal and gain citizenship, and previous attempts to pass the DREAM Act — the last one in 2010 — have failed. An executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 gave individuals who arrived in the US before the age of 16 permission to stay and granted them some privileges, so long as they meet a number of conditions.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in September that individuals whose DACA status expired by March 5, 2018, could apply for a two-year extension. Nearly 800,000 people have qualified for DACA, but as of Sept. 4, only 690,000 were enrolled, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service.
In an effort to save DACA, tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook joined more than 100 other companies earlier this month in filing in an amicus brief in support of a University of California lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security.
Tech companies say the elimination of DACA would harm the US economy and their bottom lines directly. The brief indicates that 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ Dreamers, who in turn contribute to the US economy. A study by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of all DACA workers would reduce US gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years.
Oral arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled to begin Dec. 20. when lawyers for the University of California, which has 4,000 DACA students, will argue that the government violated administrative and due process laws of the US Constitution, according to Napolitano.
“Do we want to be a talent magnet for the world or do we want to lose them?” Napolitano said during the panel. “I say, let’s be a talent magnet.”