Entrepreneurs

Uber CTO shares his journey as a refugee after Trump ends DACA

Uber CTO Thuan Pham
Photo courtesy Uber
Uber CTO Thuan Pham

Technology leaders are getting personal when it comes to defending "dreamers."

Thuan Pham has been the chief technical officer at Uber for the past four and a half years. He was previously a vice president at the Silicon Valley computer software company VMware for eight years. He received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from MIT.

But before all that, he was a refugee to the United States. Pham fled Vietnam in harrowing, life-threatening conditions.

"When I was 10 years old, I left Vietnam with my mother and younger brother, crammed with 470 other people without life jackets onto an old fishing boat to Malaysia," Pham says in a post published by Uber.

"It was a perilous and terrifying four-day journey — with major storms threatening to sink us, and pirates with guns and knives who robbed us and could kill us as well. We were the lucky ones who survived the 50 percent odds of that sea crossing," he continues.

"When we arrived in Malaysia, we were rejected as refugees and had to turn around and take another several days to reach Indonesia with our boat. When we reached the US as refugees, we had to start our lives over with empty hands, but it was the hope and promise of the American Dream that kept us going."

Pham told his story publicly on behalf of the transportation behemoth Tuesday in response to the move by President Donald Trump to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals administrative program, which President Obama put into effect in 2012.

Currently, 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, so called "dreamers," are protected by DACA. Trump has given Congress six months to come up with another option because his Attorney General Jeff Sessions says Obama's use of executive power to institute DACA was an unlawful overreach. If Congress fails, Trump tweeted that he will "revisit the issue."

"When we reached the US as refugees, we had to start our lives over with empty hands, but it was the hope and promise of the American Dream that kept us going." -Thuan Pham, CTO of Uber

"Immigrants often risk their lives for a chance at freedom and opportunity, and our country remains the world's beacon of freedom and opportunity," Pham says in the Uber post. "Immigrants have built and contributed to America since its very beginning, and are at the center of our social fabric and economic prosperity. My heart breaks to see so many people who are in the same situation today that I was in many years ago."

Pham joined other technology leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Y Combinator President Sam Altman and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in signing an open letter to congressional leaders urging them to block Trump's efforts to kill DACA. The letter emphasizes how vital "dreamers" are to business and the country's future.

"At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees," the letter states. "Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions."

Uber's new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also publicly disavowed the move by the Trump administration. "It's against our values to turn our backs on #DREAMers. Everyone deserves a chance to work, study and contribute — the #AmericanDream!," he tweeted.

The tech industry has been aggressive in its repudiation of DACA's repeal.

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith called on Congress to protect "dreamers" before it gets to tax reform.

"We say this even though Microsoft, like many other companies, cares greatly about modernizing the tax system and making it fairer and more competitive. But we need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill," Smith wrote in a statement published Tuesday. "In short, urgent DACA legislation is both an economic imperative and a humanitarian necessity."

Smith said Microsoft currently employs dozens of "dreamers" and it will do whatever necessary to protect them.

"For the 39 Dreamers that we know of who are our employees, our commitment is clear. If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees," Smith says. "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."

As their fates hang in the balance, "dreamers" are facing an uncertain future fraught with anxiety and fear of what might come. One thing that is becoming increasingly certain, however, is that the tech community is squarely behind them.

"Our community has always been about what brings people of every background together," says Pham. "We'll continue to stand by immigrants who want nothing more than to contribute to our country and pursue the American Dream."

See also:

Read Trump's full statement defending his decision to end DACA

Zuckerberg says it's a 'sad day' as tech execs slam Trump for ending DACA

A 'dreamer' opens up about life under Trump: 'The psychological trauma is real'