A first principles analysis of the immigration EO

Saket Saurabh
Saket Saurabh

When faced with a difficult question, mathematicians like to solve from first principles. Engineers get down to nuts and bolts. Most of us call it “going back to basics.” Letting go of assumptions and relying on fundamental concepts is a great way to find a clean, high quality solution to a difficult problem. As an engineer, I followed that approach in my work and as an entrepreneur, one of the first things the Nexla founding team did was to codify the core cultural values of our company. Those cultural values are our first principles, our nuts and bolts.

nexla's first principles and core valuesNexla Core Values

Going Back to First Principles

January 27th, 2017 was the day that the Executive Order for an immigration travel ban took the country by surprise. It was the same day my third child and my first daughter was born here in Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley. As the father of this newborn baby girl, I couldn’t help wonder what the country would be like for her 20 years from now, as a woman and as a minority of Indian origin.

I had come to the US in 1999 having been hired by a US company out of college. What brought me here was the opportunity to work with the best in technology. Little did I know that the country would accept me as its own and my cultural values would blend in with those of this great country. 17 years later, I had become a US citizen, taken the pledge of allegiance, and given up my Indian citizenship.

Today, when I look at the challenges facing our country and the current political environment around immigration, I believe that as a country we need to go back to first principles and rely on the cultural values that we all share. Two cultural values specifically that are core to our country, that are core to me personally, and have become core values at Nexla are (a) Intellectual Honesty and (b) Empathy.

Intellectual Honesty and Empathy

nuts and bolts for first principles

Intellectual honesty is built right into the very first line of the Constitution where it says  “to form a more perfect Union”. This is what makes America the quintessential startup among countries: The willingness to look in, to recognize  shortcomings and then iterate to improve. Our founding fathers realized that this is a never ending process, but it is how, little by little, we get better and better.

Intellectual honesty is in knowing that unlike any other country in this world, this is a country of immigrants. It is in knowing that over centuries people have immigrated to this land with hope and ambition and a uniquely entrepreneurial drive to make things better. And in this way, they contribute into making this a more perfect union.

There have always been groups who have wanted to close the door behind them and not let people in for various reasons, but time and again empathy has prevailed. Deep down as a nation we have known that those who come today share the same hopes and ambitions that generations of immigrants before them did. That common thread drives the sense of empathy in how we look at immigration. And nothing speaks better to the ability of our nation to empathize than the quote on Statue of Liberty saying “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

Having been through the immigration process myself, I empathize greatly with every immigrant for the anxiety, the uncertainty and the challenge that being an immigrant brings. As such, I  cannot support a policy that so clearly violates our values.

Holding Up Our High Standard

The United States holds the high standard that people all over the world look up. And yes, holding on to high standards can sometimes seem tough but that’s a true test of character – a message that we all got from our parents and one that I hope to pass on down to my children.

Politicians will continue to use their Divide and Conquer strategy to factionalize people and secure their vote banks. Immigration has certainly been one issue that has been subject to games from both political parties. The recent rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and executive support of such rhetoric is unprecedented in modern US history. It is driven by fear because in the short term fear is a great political tool. However, this great country was built not on fear, but on its core cultural values. I hope and believe that intellectual honesty and empathy will help us see through the political myopia of today and put us back on the moral high ground as a nation.