Reetu Gupta, Citlaly Ramirez, and Leslie Feinzaig share their stories at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photos / Dan DeLong)From political upheaval to natural disasters, 2017 has been a tumultuous year for everyone. But perhaps no group has felt that unrest more acutely than immigrants living in the U.S. President Donald Trump has targeted the immigration system in broad strokes, reducing H-1B visa grants; attempting to kill the International Entrepreneur Rule; dismantling the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program; and issuing several iterations of the travel ban. Several of these programs ignited outcry from the tech industry, for which immigration is a flagship issue. Immigrants are generally considered to be a boon for tech, helping companies fill their talent needs and fostering entrepreneurship. A study from early December supports that notion. It revealed that 43 percent of last year’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. To shine a spotlight on the role immigrants play in the tech ecosystem, GeekWire invited foreign-born members of the technology community to share their incredible stories in a series called “The Immigrant’s Journey” at this year’s GeekWire Summit in October. To underscore the series, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sat down for a fireside chat during the event. Ferguson was the first attorney general to sue the Trump administration over its original travel ban, securing an injunction that halted its implementation nationwide. He is advocating for immigrant rights in several ongoing lawsuits.
Continue reading and watch the videos below to hear remarkable stories of grit, courage, and entrepreneurial drive from Leslie Feinzaig, Reetu Gupta, and Citlaly Ramirez. Leslie Feinzaig, CEO of Venture Kits Leslie Feinzaig’s family history traces back to Poland where her ancestors were persecuted for being Jewish. They immigrated to Costa Rica after they were rejected at the U.S. border. “It was a chapter in American history when prejudice against people from other nations was codified into law — a little bit like today,” Feinzaig said on stage at the GeekWire Summit. They settled in Costa Rica and generations later, Feinzaig was born. She moved to the U.S. for college and was eventually able to earn an H-1B visa working for Microsoft. But her immigrant’s journey was far from over. Watch below to find out the rest of Feinzaig’s story.
Reetu Gupta, CEO of Cirkled in Reetu Gupta arrived in the U.S. in 1999 with two suitcases and $2,000. She grew up in a tiny town in Northen India where amenities like electricity and running water were far from consistent or guaranteed. “Inefficiencies of systems used to boil my blood,” she said during the GeekWire Summit. “I broke all norms of society and I was always getting in trouble.” Defying expectations, she earned an engineering degree in India and immigrated to the U.S. in search of opportunity. She took a job with AT&T and then moved into aerospace, where she filed five patents for the user interface pilots use and helped design the FAA’s next-generation air traffic control. Watch below to find out how she made the leap to entrepreneurship and how her experiences inform her daughter’s dreams.
Citlaly Ramirez, WSOS Scholar at Western Washington University Citlaly Ramirez is fulfilling a lifelong goal of becoming a the first person in her family to graduate from college. She’s well on her way, studying information systems management and double-minoring in computer science and theater at Western Washington University. Ramirez got there thanks to a combination of hard work (studying coding as a child and interning at Code.org) and financial assistance from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship. It isn’t only Ramirez’s ambition that makes her a Dreamer. She is one of approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants allowed to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act. The clock is running out for DACA recipients, as Trump decided not to renew the program when it expires in March. “Dreamers are so-called because they have dreams to fulfill,” Ramirez said on stage at the Summit. “My ultimate dream is that one day we treat all humans equally regardless of status and race. This is why I’m proud to be a dreamer and I invite all of you to dream along with me.”