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Tech companies consider legal challenges to immigration order


SAN FRANCISCO — Tech companies up and down the West coast scrambled Tuesday to figure out what role they could play in opposing President Trump’s executive order on immigration, which is having an outsized effect on the industry because of the large number of immigrants and H-1B visa holders it employs.

A loose coalition of California-based tech companies planned to confab Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco to discuss what actions they might collectively take to fight the executive order, two sources familiar with the meeting, but who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it, told USA TODAY.

Google, Airbnb and Netflix are among the companies planning to meet, they said.

In the Seattle area, Microsoft and Amazon were helping the state’s attorney general with Washington’s own suit against the immigration order.

The San Francisco meeting was called after lawyers for tech companies began calling and emailing each other over the weekend. The result was the meeting, which was originally planned to take place at the San Francisco offices of GitHub, which makes software development tools. However, on Tuesday it was moved to an undisclosed location because news of the meeting was leaked. Neither the location nor the time of Tuesday’s meeting has been released.

Discussions are still in the very earliest of stages and it’s unclear at this point whether an amicus brief might be filed or if it were, in what jurisdiction, or even if an amicus brief is the appropriate response, sources familiar with some of the discussions said.

Silicon Valley tech firms have come out strongly against the order.

“Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,” said CEO Tim Cook in a memo to employees criticizing the presidential order.

Silicon Valley’s relationship with Trump is already rocky, going back to last year’s presidential campaign, when many leaders voiced support for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. But it could grow more hostile if Trump follows through with a draft executive order aimed at overhauling the H-1B work-visa program tech companies favor.

The San Francisco meeting comes a day after Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in federal court to declare key provisions of the executive order unconstitutional.

Three of the state’s largest tech companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia, all worked with the attorney general’s office to collect data on the potential effects of the executive order on their employees and businesses to strengthen the case, Ferguson’s office said.

Microsoft, the oldest and largest of the three, provided information to the attorney general and is willing to testify further if necessary.

At least 76 Microsoft employees are affected by the immigration restrictions, Microsoft president Brad Smith said on Saturday.

In its declaration, Amazon said that it employed 40,000 people in Washington State and at least 49 employees were born in one of the countries covered by the executive order.

Expedia, an online travel company, said in its declaration that since January 29, 2017 at least 1,000 Expedia customers who hold passports issued by one of the seven countries listed in the executive order have purchased airplane tickets that go through the United States and would be potentially impacted.

Follow Brett Molina and Elizabeth Weise on Twitter: @brettmolina23 and @eweise.

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