Microsoft takes fight for ‘dreamers’ to the US Supreme Court

The company is among plaintiffs in cases that could determine the future of the DACA program.

By Cat Zakrzewski / The Washington Post

Redmond-based Microsoft is going to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend employees who were brought to the United States undocumented as young children.

The company is among the plaintiffs in cases the Supreme Court is expected to review Tuesday that could determine the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — an Obama-era initiative that grants work permits and shields more than 660,000 qualified young immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation. More than five dozen of Microsoft’s employees are considered “dreamers” eligible for the program, and the company is challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to end it.

Microsoft President Brad Smith previewed the company’s arguments in a blog post on Friday, arguing that dreamers are an essential source of talent that Microsoft depends on. “It’s essential not just to us, but also to our country’s ability to compete on the world stage,” Smith wrote.

Smith also told stories of individual employees whose futures hangs in the balance of the court’s decision. Smith wrote of a young service and security engineer at the company’s headquarters, who rose to the role after she was brought to U.S. from Mexico at the age of 4. She didn’t learn she was undocumented until she was much older, and her mother told her she would not be able to join a school field trip because she would not be able to reenter the country. Another employee working on Microsoft’s Azure product came to the U.S. with his family at four months old. After growing up close to the poverty line, he excelled at computer science while attending California Polytechnic State University and received job offers from multiple tech companies upon graduation.

Microsoft is the only corporation bringing a case in front of the Supreme Court this week — but the future of DACA has wide-ranging implications for all tech titans, who have reported that dreamers serve in many key roles at their companies. The Trump administration’s immigration policies — particularly its efforts to dismantle DACA — have emerged as one of the toughest sticking points between the White House and industry.

“For us, this fight is not just about our employees,” Smith wrote. “It’s also about the potential impact of DACA rescission on the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, on businesses across the country, and on the innovation economy that is central to the nation’s prosperity. Roughly three-quarters of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies have confirmed that they employ Dreamers.”

Apple, which has said it employs more than 400 dreamers, earlier this year submitted a filing to the Supreme Court slamming Trump’s attempts to revoke the program. “We did not hire them out of kindness or charity. We did it because Dreamers embody Apple’s innovation strategy,” the filing said. “They come from diverse backgrounds and display a wide range of skills and experiences that equip them to tackle problems from different perspectives.”

Other technology companies including Google, IBM and Amazon have filed a brief saying that ending DACA will hurt the U.S. economy and reduce job growth. “Eliminating DACA will inflict serious harm on U.S. companies, all workers, and the American economy as a whole,” the firms wrote. “Companies will lose valued employees. Workers will lose employers and co-workers.”

The tech companies’ decision to take their concerns about DACA to the court underscore how immigration issues are emerging as a top concern for companies trying to compete for talent in a competitive environment. Smith noted in his blog post that the company is also concerned about the green-card backlog and limits on high-skilled worker visas.

“We also recognize that the Dreamers are one part of the broader immigration challenges we face as a nation,” Smith wrote. “We are committed to constructive steps to attract and retain talent that helps fuel innovation and grow our economy for the benefit of every American.”

The DACA program has been the subject of volatile yet unsuccessful negotiations between Congress and the White House. The court’s review of these cases could add pressure for lawmakers to act on the issue, though tensions would likely run high as immigration emerges as a key issue in the 2020 elections. Smith says the case before the Court ” is insufficient in addressing the permanent needs of the nation’s Dreamer population.”

“The only path to stability for Dreamers is a pathway to citizenship,” he wrote. “And citizenship in this case can only come from Congress.”

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