Twitter, Microsoft, and LinkedIn and dozens of other tech companies are calling for an end to a new rule that places restrictions on low-income immigrants entering or living in the US.
The companies signed onto an amicus brief filing in the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Thursday, appealing the public charge rule, which establishes a test for whether immigrants are likely to use public benefits in the US like food stamps or Medicaid. If immigrants are found likely to in the future use these benefits, immigration agents can deny their right to legally enter or live in the US.
In the brief, which calls the rule an “arbitrary, capricious and unconscionable” regulation, the companies argue that it will slow down their ability to hire crucial employees by tacking on additional requirements and paperwork to the already lengthy immigration process. The document, which was filed by immigration technology company Boundless Immigration, argues that the bill could cause tens of billions in negative economic impact — far outweighing the savings President Trump has estimated it would reduce in taxpayer dollar spending. By signing it, these companies hope to sway the courts to appeal the presidential administration’s increasingly harsh policies toward immigrants, which they see as not just morally wrong but also financially harmful to their operations.
“By hindering immigration—including the movement of highly-skilled immigrants—the Rule will slow economic growth, prevent businesses from expanding, and break faith with core American values,” reads a draft copy of the brief obtained by Recode. “This is bad policy for American businesses and American taxpayers.”
Aside from tech companies like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Microsoft that signed on individually, Compete America, a coalition of tech firms that advocates on immigration policy, also signed on. Its members include major tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
This is not the first time that tech has rallied against the Trump administration’s immigration policies. In the past, tech companies have challenged proposed changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and they’ve also criticized the travel ban. This latest brief signals that these tech companies oppose immigration policies that target low-income immigrants too, and not just those who have high-income job offers and the potential to work in the tech space.
Why tech is against this rule
The public charge rule, published in August, has been controversial since its release. Politicians, judges, and human rights advocates say that it’s antithetical to American values around welcoming immigrants of all backgrounds, regardless of their income.
Trump, meanwhile, has said the rule is “long overdue” to make sure that immigrants are “financially self-sufficient” and to “protect benefits for American citizens.”
Studies have shown that low-income immigrants are less likely to use public benefits than low-income native-born Americans. But Trump has focused on what he says is a growing problem of immigrants using public benefits at other Americans’ expense.
Several federal courts in states such as California, New York, and Washington have blocked the rule from going into effect by issuing injunctions while they hear legal cases against it. Trump has asked the Supreme Court to lift those injunctions so the rule can take effect.
Tech companies’ opposition to the bill focuses on how it would add more hurdles to the green card and visa application process for immigrant workers. They also argue that adding a list of disqualifying factors for immigrants, such as having poor credit scores, being over the age of 61, or having debt of any kind, will restrict their potential workforce both directly and indirectly.
That’s because even if highly-educated and well-paid engineers meet the new qualifications, they could slow down the entire immigration process. More broadly, these tech companies argue that America’s innovation is fueled by attracting entrepreneurs and talented individuals around the world. Immigrants have been a key driver of financial success in Silicon Valley. About 56 percent of the 25 most valuable tech companies in the US had a founder who was a first- or second-generation immigrant, according to a 2018 estimate.
“Our nation’s strength comes from our ability to attract top talent from around the world to come and contribute to our economy,” wrote a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to Recode. “Among our concerns with the rule is how it would negatively impact the immigration prospects of people with disabilities. We believe that having a diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities is essential to our mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
LinkedIn shared a similar statement expanding on its support of the brief. “We’re committed to creating economic opportunity for everyone, regardless of their social or economic status,” a spokesperson for LinkedIn, Rikhi Parikh, told Recode in a statement. “We know that immigrants play a critical role in our country’s economic growth, and that we’re a stronger and better company because of the diversity of our workforce.”
Apple staying quiet
One company is notably missing from the list of major tech signatories and supporters on this amicus brief: Apple.
In the past, the iPhone manufacturer hasn’t been shy about its opposition to Trump’s immigration policies. In October 2019, the company filed an amicus brief in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — a program introduced by former President Obama that has protected from deportation around 800,000 immigrants who came to the US as children. Trump terminated the program in 2017. Apple CEO Tim Cook personally signed on to the impassioned brief, calling it a moral issue, and noting that the company currently employs hundreds of people under DACA protection.
But now, on another major policy that could negatively impact immigrants across the board, the company has yet to take a public stance.
Apple did not respond to Recode’s request for comment about why the company is not signing the brief against the public charge rule, or if it has a stance on the public charge rule.
Whether or not the public charge rule will go into effect is up to the courts. That’s why tech companies filing amicus briefs could potentially make a difference on this issue.
Seeing as tech is one of the main drivers of growth in the US economy, and a major employer of high-paying jobs, these companies’ opinion on these cases could very well sway judges, including conservative ones who may be more convinced by economic reasons rather than political arguments.
But in the meantime, as my Vox colleague Nicole Narea wrote, whether or not these court cases effectively appeal public charge, it’s already hurting many immigrants. That’s because “the rule has had a chilling effect already: Non-citizens have been needlessly dropping their public benefits at alarming rates for fear that they will face immigration consequences.”
Xiao Wang, the CEO of Boundless, which is filing the brief, says that his goal in rallying tech companies on this issue is to provide people with the same opportunities he had to become a successful business leader.
“My family gave up everything to make it in America because this is where dreams come true,” Wang told Recode. “So it’s heartening for me to hear that all these other companies also think about the future of this country.”