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Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.
Biden's Day One moves suggest that immigration reform will be one of the key areas for allyship between Silicon Valley and the Biden administration over the next several years. The industry is sorely in need of common ground as Democrats pledge to use their power over Congress and the White House to crack down on Big Tech.
"We welcome President Biden's commitment to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform that reflects the American values of justice, fairness and dignity," said Cook in a statement to Protocol. "This effort will strengthen American communities and the pathways to opportunity this country has long fostered."
Cook, who is the chair of Business Roundtable's immigration committee, said he looked forward to working with Democrats and Republicans on a "permanent solution for Dreamers that includes a path to citizenship."
"We applaud @POTUS's quick action on COVID relief, the Paris Climate Accord, and immigration reform," Pichai tweeted Wednesday. "Google has supported action on these important issues & we look forward to working with the new administration to help the US recover from the pandemic + grow our economy."
An Uber spokesperson also affirmed the company's support for President Biden's actions. "At Uber, we have long supported positive immigration reform and an effective system that upholds core American values," the spokesperson said. "Uber will continue to support Dreamers, and we welcome the new Administration's effort to reform our nation's immigration system."
The tech industry, which relies heavily on foreign workers, has spent the last four years battling with the Trump administration over efforts to shut down vital talent pipelines from countries including India, China and Iran. Over the last four years, tech giants have filed amicus briefs in high-profile court cases and lobbied in favor of opening up U.S. borders to high-skilled workers. Despite protestations from Silicon Valley leaders, the Trump administration continually added uncertainty to the H-1B visa application process, resulting in significant backlogs.
Biden's immigration bill would put money towards clearing visa backlogs, eliminate visa caps on certain countries and make it easier for people on temporary work visas to get green cards. Perhaps most significantly, it would immediately give the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a pathway to become citizens.
The executive orders on DACA and the Muslim ban will immediately appease immigration advocates, including those inside the tech industry, but the toughest battle still lies ahead: rallying support in Congress for immigration reform, which has failed for years. Still, there may be some in the Republican party who are willing to work with the Biden administration on key pillars of the proposal. On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was a leading player in immigration talks during the Obama years and a top Trump ally, told CBS he is open to creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"What we are really looking for is making sure there is congressional action and there is a legislative solution," said Karolina Filipiak, senior director of government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, a tech trade group. "We don't want to be in the same position four years from now or eight years from now [with] a new administration that could rescind the program."
Companies including Facebook and Google are hoping to work with lawmakers in Congress to create bipartisan support for reform, particularly as they face regulatory headwinds of their own.
Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.