The Technology 202: Biden's pledge to 'Dreamers' highlights stark contrast with Trump over immigration

The Technology 202: Biden’s pledge to ‘Dreamers’ highlights stark contrast with Trump over immigration

Originally Published in The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski with Tonya Riley - October 23, 2020

Joe Biden pledged on the debate stage last night to “immediately certify” and create a pathway to citizenship for thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children.

In doing so, the former vice president highlighted the stark difference between his immigration policies and those of President Trump. The tech industry has aggressively fought Trump’s attempts to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — an Obama-era initiative that grants work permits and shields from deportation more than 660,000 qualified young immigrants know as “Dreamers” who are in the U.S. illegally.
President Trump and Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Biden last night criticized Trump for wanting to send home the “DACA kids,” noting that many would be returning to countries “ they've never seen before.” He’s previously promised to make the program permanent on the first day of his presidency by sending a bill to Congress.

“They've been here. Many of them are model citizens,” Biden said. “We owe them.”

It’s unclear exactly how many tech workers are DACA recipients, but companies have indicated they make up a significant share of their workforces. Microsoft earlier this year took its fight to protect DACA to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected Trump’s attempt to end the program in a 5-4 decision. Apple said last year that nearly 400 of its employees are so-called “Dreamers,” and Microsoft said at the time of the Supreme Court’s ruling that more than five dozen of its employees are covered by the program.

Immigration has been one of the most contentious issues between the White House and Silicon Valley.

That would change if Biden were elected. The tech industry could expect far more friendly immigration policies.

Tech executives have been some of the most vocal critics of the Trump administration’s policies, including the travel ban on foreign nationals from Muslim-majority countries, Trump’s family separation policies andthe administration’s crackdown on visas for high-skilled workers.

Biden’s promises to reverse many of Trump’s policies and dramatically expand immigration would be far more friendly to Silicon Valley, where immigrants have played a critical role in building some of the most successful companies. But the Obama administration failed to follow through on its promises to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and it may be politically challenging for Biden to pass ambitious immigration laws while also addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said last night the Obama administration “made a mistake” in not achieving comprehensive immigration reform. He  signaled it would be different if he were elected in November.

“It took too long to get it right,” he said. “I'll be President of the United States, not Vice President of the United States."

Trump meanwhile criticized Biden's inaction, saying he had eight years to change the country's immigration laws and attacked him for having “no understanding” of them. Trump also defended his administration's family separation policies, as the parents of 545 children separated at the border cannot be found.

Visas for high-skilled immigrants were not mentioned on the debate stage.

Neither candidate mentioned their plans to address immigration regulations around high-skilled workers, one of the most critical issues for tech companies that rely heavily on engineering talent from all over the world. Tech companies have called for an expansion of the H-1B visa program, which allows companies to temporarily bring specialized workers to the United States.

However, the candidates have starkly distinct positions on the issue. Biden says he would work with Congress to change temporary visa policies to ensure they're not used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the United States for in-demand jobs. He supports expanding the number of high-skilled visas and eliminating the caps on such visas by country, according to his campaign website.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has significantly tightened the rules on the H-1B visa program during the pandemic. Administration officials last week said they would further restrict the program, requiring companies to pay higher salaries to workers, and tighten hiring rules, incresing regulation by the Labor Department the Department of Homeland Security. Tech companies have fiercely opposed the moves.


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