Microsoft president Brad Smith declared on Tuesday that any federal government attempt to deport one of its “Dreamer” employees would “have to go through us to get that person.”
The remarkable statement, which came during an interview with NPR, caps a day of strong responses by tech industry leaders to an announcement that President Donald Trump would end an Obama-era program to shield so-called “Dreamers”—hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children and who, in many cases, do not know any other country.
Smith did not elaborate on what he went by “go through us,” but as Microsoft’s longtime top lawyer, he presumably was referring to legal measures and was not speaking off the cuff. Here are his comments, set out in a tweet by an NPR reporter, in context:
In response to a request for clarification about the “go through us” comment, a Microsoft spokesperson pointed to part of a blog post by Smith, published earlier on Tuesday, that reads:
If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our 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.
Smith’s blog post also called on Congress to pass immigration legislation to protect the “Dreamers,” describing such a law as an “economic imperative and humanitarian necessity.” Smith added that immigration took priority over tax reform, another high-priority issue for the tech sector.
President Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama era executive action (known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA) gives Congress until March 5 to address the Dreamer issue.
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The new arrangement will also honor existing permits that currently shield many Dreamers from deportation. But those permits only last two years, so many of those affected could find themselves in serious immigration jeopardy as soon as next summer.
Despite the possibility of a Congressional reprieve, there has been widespread outrage in the tech sector that Dreamers—many of whom have attend college or serve in the military—could be deported.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, for instance, said in a memo to employees he is “deeply dismayed by Trump’s decision,” and noted that “more than 250 of our Apple coworkers—may soon find themselves cast out of the only country they’ve ever called home.”
Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that Trump’s decision was a “sad day for the country” and called it “particularly cruel.”
(This story was updated at 6:45pm ET to include Microsoft’s response)