The Trump travel ban sent a signal to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims — and the rest of the world — that the United States is no longer open for business. It was a dagger pointed not at the heart of ISIS, but at the heart of the U.S. innovation economy. The president missed an opportunity Tuesday night to walk away from a policy that is terrible for our Constitution, our economy and our values.
As a former ACLU attorney, one who practiced constitutional law and led the ACLU’s efforts on privacy and immigration, I can say unequivocally that the executive order was unconstitutional and would have failed a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. As a former director of policy at Facebook, and currently an adviser to dozens of tech startups, I can tell you that from a business point of view, it is a direct threat to our global innovation leadership.
The U.S. is in constant competition for software coding and engineering talent. Wherever that talent goes, capital and the innovation economy follow. For generations, people with brilliant new ideas, talent and the desire to work hard and take risks have flocked to the U.S., producing an incredibly dynamic and powerful economy. Tech workers earn more than twice the average private sector wage. There are roughly 7 million of them employed in the United States. If we shut our doors, these talented thinkers and workers will go elsewhere, taking their dynamism and productivity with them. U.S. innovation leadership is not an immutable fact. While novel ideas and access to capital certainly matter, the most precious resource for innovative companies is talent.
Simply put: The companies with the most talented staff usually win. The greatest cost to most companies is engineering talent. Right now, more than 80 percent of companies looking for engineers are having trouble hiring. There are never enough people with the highest skills and creativity to fill these roles. In fact, the time needed to fill job openings is the longest it’s been in nearly two decades. In the next 15 years, net migration will be the only significant source of labor force growth, according to The Conference Board, an influential global economic research group. U.S. colleges and universities produce insufficient numbers of highly-skilled workers in software, hardware coding and engineering. Code academies and other training courses help, but they cannot fill the gap.
There’s nothing especially magical about Silicon Valley or the United States that forces the most innovative and successful companies in the world to be established and built here. Look around — whether it is Tel Aviv, Berlin, Nairobi or Beijing, dozens of other cities and countries are vying to be the next Silicon Valley. Their emergence has been slow only because the United States, until recently, has been perceived as the finest place to build ideas into companies. But a report by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2020, Bangalore, India, will overtake Silicon Valley as the largest IT cluster in the world.
From a civil liberties perspective, the travel ban and any future policies or executive orders like it are anathema to our values and our Constitution. Depriving lawful permanent residents and visa holders of travel rights violates both the constitutionally-protected “right to travel” enunciated in many legal cases, as well as the substantive and procedural due process clauses of the Constitution.
Trump has promised to revise the ban. For the good of our innovation economy and the good of our democracy, we should ban any future bans.
Tim Sparapani is senior policy fellow at CALinnovates, a nonprofit technology advocacy firm. He was the first director of public policy at Facebook and served as senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
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