Spark

'I can understand fear. I've lived fear.'

A tech worker affected by Trump's travel ban tells his story. Plus, Canadian tech leaders respond to the ban.
Murtadha al-Tameemi, an Iraqi software engineer for Facebook, shares how he and his family are affected by the U.S. travel ban. 0:58
Listen16:56

UPDATE: On Friday, a Seattle federal judge put a block on U.S. President Donald Trump's week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States. And on late Sunday evening, a group of 97 U.S. tech companies — including Apple, Google and Facebook — filed a legal document stating that Trump's immigration ban affects their operations and inflicts "substantial harm on U.S. companies."


Murtadha al-Tameemi is an Iraqi software engineer for Facebook in Seattle, in the U.S. on work visa.
Murtadha al-Tameemi is a software engineer for Facebook in Seattle. (Murtadha al-Tameemi)
Up until now, he would often visit his mother and brothers in Vancouver, Canada, on weekends, where they settled as refugees in 2015.

As Murtadha explains, it all started with an unexpected phone call from his immigration lawyer while he was in Vancouver. She informed him of the ban and told him to return to the U.S. immediately.

"I was speechless. It was so shocking," he recounts. "Is this even possible?"

Murtadha first came to the U.S. ten years ago as a young student on a scholarship, and due to the support of Americans, he was able to achieve his dreams of becoming a software engineer.

"What's happening now doesn't seem to reflect the welcoming nature and generosity of the American people I knew when I first came here," he says.  

Murtadha notes the irony that Trump's action is being taken in the name of preventing the very terror groups his family escaped from.

Murtadha al-Tameemi drives from Seattle most weekends to visit his mother and brothers in Canada. (Murtadha al-Tameemi)
"We have seen the very effects of terrorism and violence. It has ripped through our family," he says.

"If anybody has seen and knows impact of this stuff, it's people like ourselves who are here in pursuit of a better life and are trying to build safety for ourselves and our families."

As long as the executive order is in place, Murtadha feels that he can't leave the U.S. to see his family who live close by in Canada. He calls Trump's ban "absurd," saying "it's not doing the things it intends or promises and it separates people unnecessarily."

Murtadha says he isn't willing to leave his prestigious tech job just yet and he remains "optimistic and hopeful" that things will change.

"But if this country continues to move in a direction where people like myself will face hostility and rejection as an official stance from the government, then it will be hard to continue being here."

Listen to the full conversation with Murtadha here:

Murtadha al-Tameemi, an Iraqi software engineer for Facebook, shares how he and his family are affected by the U.S. travel ban. 12:27
In response, on January 29th, 150 Canadian tech leaders -- including Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke, Wealthsimple CEO Michael Katchen and Wattpad CEO Allen Lau -- penned an open letter to Ottawa.  
Allen Lau, CEO of Canadian tech company Wattpad. (CBC)
 There are now more than 3000 signatures calling for Canada to open its doors to tech workers affected by Trump's travel ban. 

The tech community, in the US and here, is comprised of many different nationalities, religions and perspectives. "Diversity is our strength and inclusion is our core value," says Allen. There's a shortage of highly-skilled tech workers in Canada. "Bringing in talent from abroad would be a very effective and great way of helping us bridge the gap," he says.

It's a sad way of looking at the situation, but might Trump's ban end up being a boon to Canada's tech industry? "No wants to see this executive order. It's just not right," Allen says. However, "Canada is becoming a magnet for immigrants, especially high-skilled immigrants, so from that perspective I believe it actually creates a lot opportunity for us."

Listen to the full conversation with Allen here:

Allen Lau, CEO of Wattpad, explains why Canadian tech leaders are calling for Canada to open its doors to tech workers affected by Trump's travel ban. 4:17

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