With few exceptions, Silicon Valley didn’t see eye-to-eye with President Donald Trump during his marathon campaign. A week into Trump’s presidency, the divide doesn’t appear to be going away.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sounded off against Trump’s latest executive orders on Friday, a pair of orders that aim to curtail the number of immigrants and refugees admitted by the United States. Among other things, the orders call for “extreme vetting” of refugees from certain countries seeking visas in the U.S. “Like many of you, I’m concerned about the impact of the recent executive orders signed by President Trump,” Zuckerberg wrote in response. “We should also keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help. That’s who we are.”
The statements come less than 24 hours after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg blasted Trump’s reinstatement of a decades-old policy that prohibits US aid to foreign health providers that offer abortion counseling. Sandberg and Zuckerberg have both been criticized in recent weeks for not speaking out against other policy promises and controversial statements made by Trump. Both Facebook executives used the platform to end their silence this week, each including examples of their personal experience drives home their statements.
“These issues are personal for me even beyond my family. A few years ago, I taught a class at a local middle school where some of my best students were undocumented,” Zuckerberg said Friday. “They are our future too. We are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here.”
It remains unclear how Trump’s executive orders will be implemented. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will come not from dissent by Silicon Valley’s most powerful people, but the enormous backlog of cases facing immigration courts around the country. Last month, the New York Times reported the size of the backlog of more than 520,000 cases nationwide, with many courts crippled by years of budget cuts and in need of additional judges.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an advocate for undocumented immigrants and founder of the nonprofit group Define American, praised Zuckerberg’s words, calling the billionaire “the most high-profile ally of undocumented immigrants in the Trump era.” Vargas, who disclosed that he was an undocumented immigrant in 2011, said that publicly supporting immigration under former President Barack Obama was “a whole other thing” under Trump. “We live in a country where if you say something homophobic, that’s not acceptable,” Vargas explained. “But if you are anti-immigrant, you win the White House. That is … way beyond politics and policy. That’s a cultural shift.”
Vargas said he hopes other Silicon Valley executives take note of Zuckerberg’s stance on the issue, calling the CEO’s words “commendable and necessary” while citing the prevalence of immigrants who work in the technology industry. “It begs the question of who is going to follow suit,” Vargas said. “I think [Zuckerberg] has created a space for other people to do that.”