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Tina Casey headshot

Microsoft Steps Out in Support of DACA and Dreamers

By Tina Casey

When it comes to politics and government policy, U.S. business leaders usually let their lobbying organizations do the talking for them. That's especially so when criticizing the policies of a sitting U.S. president. Nevertheless, since the beginning of his term President Trump has faced blowback from top executives at some of the largest companies in the nation -- and the world. So far the protests have been relatively genteel, but Trump's decision to reverse DACA has lit a fuse, and global leader Microsoft is among the first to explode.

Microsoft vows to defend DACA before tax reform

For those of you new to the topic, DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy established by executive order of former President Obama.

DACA is intended to protect U.S. residents who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children under the age of 16. Especially for those who were brought as infants or toddlers, the U.S. is the only home in their memory.

There is no blanket protection under DACA. Qualified residents -- the DREAMers -- must have proof of employment and education among other requirements. Partly for this reason, it is not unusual to find DACA-protected employees at Microsoft and other top U.S. companies.

Shortly after Trump announced the reversal of DACA on Monday, National Public Radio interviewed Microsoft president Brad Smith, who threatened to advocate for delaying action on a tax reform bill until the DREAMers are permanently protected.

That's no small threat. Tax reform has been the goal -- actually, the main goal -- of Republicans in Congress for a generation. With Republican President Trump holding the power to sign bills into law, a window to achieve that goal finally opened wide this year.

However, the failure of the health reform bill tempered the anticipation of a victory, and Republicans in Congress need the full-throated support of the business community if they are going to push tax reform through.

They can expect no help from Microsoft -- unless Congress acts to preserve DACA first:

Smith also said if the government moves to deport Dreamers who are Microsoft employees, "it's going to have to go through us to get that person.

There is nothing that we will be pushing on more strongly for Congress to act on. We put a stake in the ground. We care about a tax reform bill. The entire business community cares about a tax reform. And yet it is very clear today a tax reform bill needs to be set aside until the DREAMers are taken care of. They have a deadline that expires in six months. Tax reform can wait."

Smith followed that up in a company blog post dated September 5, emphasizing the need to act before Trump's six-month deadline expires:
...Congress should adopt legislation on DACA before it tries to adopt a tax reform bill. This is the only way, given the number of legislative days Congress has scheduled over the next six months, we realistically can expect Congress to complete DACA legislation in time.

And, Smith emphasized that the "stake in the ground" is real in terms of protecting its DACA employees:
If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal counsel. We will also file an amicus brief and explore whether we can directly intervene in any such case. In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.

Considering that Microsoft only employs only a few dozen known DREAMers* out of a total U.S. workforce of more than 73,000, that's an exceptionally strong statement of protest against Trump's DACA policy.

As for Microsoft founder Bill Gates, he reacted to the DACA announcement with a relatively benign Facebook post, beginning with this:

I’m very disappointed with today’s decision to end DACA. Hundreds of thousands of young people who have been educated in the United States and have played by the rules their whole lives will be forced to live under the threat that they will be separated from their families, friends, and communities.

That's not a particularly meaty statement, but at the end of the post he does echo Smith, stating that a legislative remedy should be a priority:
I hope that Congress will quickly pass a permanent fix to allow these young people to stay in the country without the destructive fear of deportation.

Microsoft, then and now

To get a sense of how far Smith has upped the ante, take a look at the language he used last week, in advance of Trump's decision.

On August 31 Smith issued an official statement on the company blog in defense of DACA, starting with a non-aggressive expression of concern:

We are deeply concerned by news reports about changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that are under consideration. These changes would not only negatively impact thousands of hardworking people across the United States, but will be a step backwards for our entire nation.

The statement then goes on at length to describe the numerous contributions of DREAMers to Microsoft and the U.S. economy.

Similarly, last week Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella published a statement on LinkedIn that took deployed non-aggressive arguments in support of DREAMERers, including his own personal experience. Business Insider reports:

"We care deeply about the DREAMers who work at Microsoft and fully support them. We will always stand for diversity and economic opportunity for everyone," he wrote.

Nadella also discussed his own immigration story. As a child, he was inspired by the "ingenuity of American technology." Later, he was able to come to the US to pursue his dreams thanks to the country's then-welcoming immigration polices.

Taking it to the courts

Regardless of the implied threat to push tax reform to the background, Microsoft is not trusting Congress to fix DACA.

In fact, Microsoft has joined Amazon in a 15-state lawsuit aimed at defending DACA. The Washington Post reports:

The suit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, claims that rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was “a culmination of President’s Trump’s oft-stated commitments — whether personally held, stated to appease some portion of his constituency, or some combination thereof — to punish and disparage people with Mexican roots.”

Microsoft's statement in support of the lawsuit leveraged its diversity policy.

In that context, it will be interesting to see if Gates and Nadella adopt a more forceful tone as the fallout from Trump's DACA decision continues.

*Sources for this article cite two different numbers, 27 and 39.

Photo: by Mike Mozart/flickr.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey