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Uber CEO says company will help stranded travelers affected by immigration ban

Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of the US transportation network company Uber. AFP

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick recently stepped down from US President Donald Trump’s economic advisory council following intense criticism of the ban on travel to the United States by people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Kalanick said on Twitter that his company will purchase plane tickets for stranded drivers, after a federal judge declared a halt on the immigration ban.

Uber’s CEO tweeted on Friday, 3 February, that the head of litigation for the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company is “buying a whole bunch of airline tickets ASAP!” Kalanick added the hashtags “#homecoming #fingerscrossed.”

Kalanick recently stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council following intense criticism and an online boycott of Uber over its ties to Trump’s administration. In a statement Kalanick wrote, “Earlier today I spoke briefly with the president about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council.”

Kalanick added, “Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.” News of the resignation was first reported by the New York Times.

Uber faced a viral boycott campaign in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Uber apologized to its users after being accused of trying to profit from a New York taxi driver strike over the controversial immigration policy.

The New York City Workers Alliance announced an hour-long strike on January 28, refusing to service JFK Airport in protest. Uber didn’t follow suit, instead turning off its surge pricing – making its services cheaper – and continued offering rides to and from the airport.

One Twitter user shared reasons for deleting their Uber account in a screenshot which said, “because of your actions in NYC today – in breaking strike and profiting from the misery of people being detained under discriminatory immigration policies of the Trump administration – disgust me.”

In response to the outrage, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responded via Facebook, promising to “stand up for the driver community”. Kalanick established a $3 million legal defense fund for affected drivers, and promised to compensate for any earnings that drivers may lose while banned from the country.

At first, Kalanick was hesitant to criticize Trump’s executive order. In an email to his staff on January 28, the CEO wrote, “This ban will impact many innocent people – an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.”

The following day, as the #DeleteUber campaign took off, Kalanick strengthened his rhetoric, calling Trump’s executive order “the President’s unjust immigration ban”. He tweered, “I’m going to use my position on Pres economic council to stand up for what’s right.”