Tech Titans Tackle Trump Travel Tactics

Silicon Valley's biggest names have picked a fight with President Donald Trump over his ban on immigrants from several majority-Muslim countries.

People gather near the exit of SFO, Jan. 29, 2017. (Photo by Jessica Christian)

Amid the daily barrage of unintelligible speech, Sean Spicer meltdowns, and tacky Mar-a-Lago promotions that is the Donald Trump presidency, it’s easy to forget the February uproar over Trump’s “travel ban,” which attempted to prohibit immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. That executive order was quickly shot down as unconstitutional, but the administration went back to the drawing board and issued a revised version — one that landed right back in the courts.

In the meantime, the biggest names in Bay Area tech have come out against this new version of the travel ban. As the fight plays out in two separate Courts of Appeals in San Francisco and Richmond, Va., 163 U.S. tech companies — most located here in the Bay Area — have signed on to the fight by submitting an amicus brief arguing against the ban on Muslim immigrants.

But what is an “amicus brief,” and how would it make any difference on Trump’s executive orders that are being appealed by the International Refugee Assistance Project and the State of Hawaii?

“An amicus brief is filed by someone who is not a party litigating the case,” criminal defense attorney Sam Lasser tells SF Weekly. “An amicus brief, also known as a ‘friend of the court’ brief, is generally from other entities who have an interest in the outcome of the court’s decision because it affects them in some way.”

“It’s common in business law cases for the Chamber of Commerce to file an amicus brief,” he says. “The ACLU often files amicus briefs if it’s a civil-rights issue. Either way, an amicus brief advocates a particular position.”

The 163 companies are a who’s-who of Bay Area tech firms, and includes executives from Facebook, Google, Tesla, Lyft, and Uber.

Their brief argues that the travel ban “is inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies, their employees, and the entire economy. It hinders the ability of American companies to attract talented employees; increases costs imposed on business; makes it more difficult for American firms to compete in the international marketplace; and gives global enterprises a new, significant incentive to build operations — and hire new employees — outside the United States.”

None of the signees returned our requests for comment, but local criminal-defense attorney Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo says the letter is much more than a symbolic move.

“The fact that so many tech giants have signed on is significant,” she tells SF Weekly. “Pretty much anything Google or Amazon does is automatically news, given their market heft and reach. So signing on to the brief raises the issue’s visibility.

“This particular brief is fascinating because the tech companies are basing their submission on a procedural argument — that the executive order exceeds the role assigned to the Executive Branch under the Immigration and Nationality Act,” DiEdoardo adds. “That’s interesting because validity challenges like that are normally made by the party challenging the order, rather than by amici.”

Both the Fourth Circuit and Ninth Circuit appeals are scheduled to begin arguments in May. If the ban is upheld, immigrants from specific Muslim countries would be prohibited from entering the U.S. for a period of 90 days. But if the Trump administration thought it could pick on a marginalized community without incurring the wrath of the mightiest search engine and the Everything Store, it thought wrong.

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