Why is Airbnb focused on open borders advocacy?

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Prior to Nov. 8, 2016, most companies judiciously avoided weighing in on contentious political issues for fear of alienating customers. Now, in the Trump era, all bets are off  and executives at Airbnb — which took a broadside swipe at President Trump’s immigration policies in a recent ad — are so stridently liberal that it’s hard to know if their primary goal is profit or left-wing advocacy.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and many of his uber-progressive tech brethren live in such a sheltered, coastal bubble that they’ve come to accept the elitist assumption that supporting unrestricted immigration is a universal value, common to anyone who isn’t a bigot, rather than the partisan position it is.

{mosads}Airbnb long has been under fire for its supposedly deleterious effects on communities around the world. I’m an Airbnb “superhost” who rents out my home to fund my family’s global travel. I’m an unlikely Airbnb critic, because I profit from the site and because I think property owners should, in most cases, have a right to rent their homes to a limited number of people as they see fit. But as someone who once worked in immigration law enforcement, I find the company’s strident immigration advocacy to be a lot like having a middle finger pointed at me and everyone else who believes in the rule of law.


Last Tuesday, just before the president’s State of the Union address, the company released an ad promoting Haiti, El Salvador and Africa with the intro, “We heard there’s been some expletive-filled interest in these beautiful destinations,” before concluding with the preachy clichés, “Let’s open doors … not build walls,” with the hashtag #WeAccept.

Chris LeHane, a former aide to President Clinton who is now Airbnb’s head of global policy, defended the nakedly political ad in an interview on Fox News, insisting it was consistent with the company’s “core mission of allowing anyone to belong anywhere.” This is nonsense. There is an obvious disparity between how many people from developing countries such as Mexico want to live here and how many we can accommodate. And there is the reality that even when we deport migrants who have committed crimes — in at least one case, 44 times, according to ICE — they can keep coming back. 

With a population well under half that of the United States, Mexico had more than 25,000 murders last year — a record — compared to 17,250 homicides here in 2016. Seeking to contain that drug-fueled violence from spilling over our border by extending the more than 700 miles of border walls that already exist — much of which were built with bipartisan support and no complaints or hashtag advocacy from companies such as Airbnb during the Obama administration — is about protecting our national interests, not hindering the tourism industry.   

LeHane acknowledged to Fox host Tucker Carlson that Airbnb’s 2017 Super Bowl ad, in which it launched the #WeAccept campaign, was a direct response to Trump’s travel ban. CEO Brian Chesky said the company would offer free housing to refugees and anyone impacted by the ban. He tweeted, “Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right.”

As a former foreign service officer who has screened thousands of visa applicants, including many refugees, I can confirm that the concerns that motivated the travel ban were — and are — legitimate. Many poor countries (and not just in the Middle East) have inadequate criminal record-keeping, poor intelligence-gathering, and corrupt officials who are easily bribed. Anyone who thinks that dysfunctional countries such as Chad or Somalia have the capability to determine if someone has a criminal record or poses a threat is kidding themselves.

In September, Airbnb sunk to an even more clueless and dangerous low, indicating that it thinks it can ignore federal laws it doesn’t like by becoming the first major company to say it will continue to employ Dreamers, even if their work permits expire. In a democratic system, the proper way to signal displeasure with supposedly unjust laws is to work to have them changed. If we allow companies such as Airbnb, and in fact states such as California, which is also threatening to prosecute employers who follow federal immigration laws, to flout our laws, we descend into anarchy. A united, sovereign nation must have borders and it must have laws that everyone, even crunchy tech companies in the Bay Area, must obey.

Few companies would be foolish enough to take polarizing stands in favor of Trump policy initiatives, nor would I want them to. It’s time for companies such as Airbnb who sermonize about inclusion and diversity to understand that Americans have a diversity of opinions on issues including immigration. All of us are paying customers, even those of us who don’t agree with their hashtag advocacy.

Dave Seminara was a tenured member of the U.S. Foreign Service from 2002-2007. He worked as a consular and political officer at U.S. embassies in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary, with temporary consular assignments in Poland and Bulgaria, and also has worked in the Bureau of African Affairs.

Tags Airbnb Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Brian Chesky Donald Trump liberal Vacation rental

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