By barring immigrants, we shut the door on innovation: a letter from Built In's CEO

by Maria Katris
January 31, 2017

I have always carried my American identity with pride. As a daughter of immigrants, I found President Trump’s executive order suspending U.S. entry for people from certain countries uniquely unsettling. 

When my parents emigrated from Greece, they did not have money, they didn't speak English and my father had not seen his father for seven years.

My father, like my grandfather before him, went patiently through the immigration process and endured the hardships it took to get to the United States in the hopes of something better. At the time, Greece was an unstable and volatile country, having deep scars from a not-so-distant civil war.

People like my father didn’t know exactly what awaited them, but they knew about the “American Dream” — the promise that anyone, no matter their political affiliation, ethnicity or religion, could work hard and make a good life for themselves and their family. 

My father learned local bus routes in a language he did not understand, went to junior college during the day and worked long night shifts as a Greek Town in Chicago waiter, repeating the same process for pharmacy school — only to face rejection for his first business loan to start a pharmacy of his own.

But my father didn't give up, because when you are an immigrant, you are fighting for survival. There is no safety net. There is no "mom and dad." 

This conditioning is part of the reason why immigrants are twice as likely to start a company than the native-born population. And this is why President Trump's order threatens all of us in the tech community, threatens all of us who value innovation and threatens all of us who truly want to make America great.

I know this personally. After that first loan denial, my father went on to start three different businesses over the course of my childhood. 

His experience shaped who I am today and why I am an entrepreneur. 

I learned to fight. I learned to persevere and I watched our society evolve. I was the child who went to pre-school speaking a foreign language. I was the child who had Greek food in her lunch box — something I was ridiculed for at the time. 

Today, my kids attend an amazing Chicago Public Schools school where they learn sign language and Mandarin and my daughters ask to take Greek food in their lunch boxes. Their friends now think it is "cool." 

As the co-founder and CEO of Built In, the largest network of online communities for technology companies and startups, my team and I come to work to help tech companies share their stories and find quality talent. Our team is global, and we've witnessed first-hand the disappointment of getting employment visas denied because of the low entry caps placed on certain countries. 

We embrace diversity and encourage inclusiveness. It is un-American and dangerous to discourage such immigration policies when history tells us that immigrants have founded over half of the billion dollar startups in the United States. 

We are surrounded by immigrants and first generation entrepreneurs running successful businesses each and every day — companies that have created millionaires in their exits and that employ workers globally. These are businesses with founders who themselves may not have citizenship, but employ hundreds if not thousands in this country. 

Tech companies of all stripes count immigrants, refugees and their children as integral parts of their business. The United States, meanwhile, cannot graduate enough high tech workers to fill the gap that exists today, much less the one that will exist in 2020 and beyond

I cannot fathom a world where we do not benefit from the innovative minds from abroad and the diversity of thinking we can only obtain by bringing people together from different ethnicities, races, sexes and religions. 

I cannot imagine a world where the United States concedes to international competitors due to our unwillingness to accept the contributions, talents and experiences of others. 

Our platform at Built In exists because immigrants like my father chose to come to the United States for a better life — for the opportunity to build a meaningful business they otherwise could not create in their home country. It’s the tech industry’s responsibility to recruit the best talent, regardless of ethnicity, race or religion. 

When we close our doors to immigrants and refugees from certain countries, we are sending a message that immigrants are not welcome here — and that the American Dream no longer exists. 

Without immigrants, there would be little innovation and no Google and no Apple, no Pinterest nor Reddit, WhatsApp or Built In. Imagine that world. 

For everyone in the tech and startup community, I invite you to share your story so together our voices can be heard.

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