Immigrant Entrepreneur Argues Trump Travel Ban Is Bad for Small Businesses

Colleen O'Dea | March 16, 2017 | Immigration
For Samia Bahsoun, the administration’s just-blocked executive order has three strikes against it: It hurts tourism, damages the economy, and makes it hard to find high-tech help

Samia Bahsoun, now managing her third high-tech startup, is worried that the Trump travel bans will make it hard to find qualified employees.
A federal judge’s decision last night that blocks the Trump administration’s revised travel ban should come as some relief to Samia Bahsoun, a small business owner from Asbury Park.

Bahsoun and others like her in New Jersey worry that the travel ban on people from six predominantly Muslim countries could damage their businesses by hurting tourism, damaging the economy, or preventing them from hiring high-tech workers.

U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, sitting in Hawaii, on Wednesday night granted a temporary restraining order preventing officials anywhere in the country from enforcing a March 6 executive order putting a 90-day ban on issuing new visas for residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, as well as suspending the refugee program for four months. That ban had replaced an earlier one that also had been suspended by a federal judge.

[img-narrow:/assets/16/0518/0120]Immigration advocates had been mobilizing to protest the ban at Newark International Airport today, while some elected officials and business owners were urging a halt on the ban because it would hurt both those seeking to come to the United States and the nation’s economy and businesses. They got their wishes when Watson approved the order, saying it was likely the state of Hawaii and Ismail Elshikh, an Egyptian American who is imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, would ultimately prevail in arguing the ban was unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of freedom of religion.

Projected $10B loss in tourism revenue

“A reasonable, objective observer … would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated religiously-neutral purpose,” Watson wrote in granting the temporary restraining order and stating his intention to set an expedited hearing to decide whether to extend his order.

Of the proposed ban, the national small business network Main Street Alliance issued a statement contending, “Endangered refugees will lose hope of safe resettlement, people will suffer, and communities and local economies will be hurt.”

The group referenced projections that the attempted bans and the rhetoric surrounding them will lead to a $10 billion loss in tourism revenue as people decide not to visit the United States.

“With millions of small business owners relying on tourism to drive their local economies and support their businesses, this decline could result in closed doors, lost jobs, and crumbling Main Streets. Moreover, research shows that the vast majority of refugees are working and paying taxes within a few months of arriving in the US. They start businesses, create jobs, buy homes, renew neighborhoods, and pump dollars into the local economy,” according to the alliance’s statement.

Samia Bahsoun is one of these. Currently managing her third startup, the Asbury Park business owner says that she fears for businesses like her new tech company if the United States closes its borders in any way.

Not enough high-tech workers?

“I really believe the United States is not going to be able to compete in the high-tech field,” said Bahsoun, whose company Capwave Technologies is specializing in products providing high capacity Wi-Fi access. “My concern is if you stop the immigrant pool” there won’t be enough highly trained workers to staff high-tech businesses. “It’s very difficult to attract high-tech talent here.”

Bahsoun said immigrants come to study, earn advanced degrees and go on to form businesses.

“When immigrants come here, they leave everything behind and they want one thing: to succeed,” said Bahsoun, who won the New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Advocacy in 2014. “They accept they are not going to be comfortable. As a result, a lot of us are entrepreneurs.”

Bahsoun, 56, who was born in Senegal to a Lebanese family, came to the U.S. in 1979 to study at the University of Oklahoma. After earning a graduate engineering degree, she came to New Jersey to work in research and development at Bell Labs in Holmdel. She worked there for a decade and was one of the pioneers in fiber-optic technology before leaving to become a consultant. She later went on to found three startups. Currently, in addition to running her company, Bahsoun is also a student in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s executive MBA program.

A citizen since 1988, Bahsoun said she got involved with the New Jersey Main Street Alliance and political activism because she sees it as her duty.

‘Citizenship really dignifies you’

“This is very important to me,” she said. “Citizenship really dignifies you. It’s why I got involved. I don’t take my citizenship for granted.”

Bahsoun, who travels frequently for business and has contacts across the globe, said small businesses will suffer not only because foreigners are curtailing their travel here, but also because they are reluctant to invest in businesses here.

“For small business owners, to attract investment right now, it’s going to be very difficult,” she said. “People are not looking at America as a place where they want to invest anymore. They’re not sure what’s going to happen here.”

She has more personal feelings for asserting that a ban would backfire, saying that the American melting pot is the perfect climate to foster peace.

Bahsoun is a Muslim and her grandmother was killed by an Israeli bombing of Lebanon. As a result, she was very anti-Israel in her youth. But at Bell Labs, she “worked side by side” with Israelis and they became friends.

She called America a very welcoming place and said that immigrants who feel welcome here integrate into society, but when they do not feel welcome, they will not.

“When you start to be rejected, be discriminated against, just because you don’t sound like the others, when you have a different religion, you have one foot out of the country and one foot in,” she said. “You want people to like your way of life.”