Business & Tech

Ford breaks from Trump over ban as Detroit Muslims protest

Mark Fields, CEO of Ford Motor Co., shook hands with President Donald Trump last week at a White House gathering of corporate executives.
Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images
Mark Fields, CEO of Ford Motor Co., shook hands with President Donald Trump last week at a White House gathering of corporate executives.

Majed Moughni has lived the American dream: He climbed the ladder from impoverished refugee, to hotel dishwasher, to parking cars for Ford Motor Co. royalty. Today he’s a lawyer, sitting at a chair and desk in an office that all once belonged to a Ford chief executive officer whose Lincoln Continental he used to park.

Moughni sees the business case behind Ford’s senior executives courting Donald Trump after the president spent months criticizing automakers for making cars in Mexico. Their silence through the weekend on Trump’s order halting immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries was another matter, and he couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“I’m a product of what Trump is trying to ban,” Moughni said. “It’s careless. This is a country of immigrants.”

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Automakers are walking a tightrope as they court Trump, whose policies on clean-air standards, corporate taxes, and trade will affect their fortunes. They have to balance that against other considerations closer to home: The traditional three US automakers are based in Michigan, which backed Trump’s surprise victory but also has a substantial Middle Eastern population troubled by his executive order on immigration.

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Executive chairman Bill Ford and CEO Mark Fields issued a joint statement Monday saying that they don’t support Trump’s travel ban policy, “or any other that goes against our values as a company.” General Motors Co. sent a notice to employees Sunday saying it will support any employees traveling back to the United States with a visa who encounter difficulties.

“We are not aware, to date, of any Ford employees directly affected by this policy,” Ford and Fields said in an e-mailed statement. “We will continue working to ensure the well-being of our employees by promoting the values of respect and inclusion in the workplace.”

Ford’s hometown of Dearborn has been referred to as America’s Muslim Capital, with more than 30 percent of the population of Arab descent. From 2005 to 2015, the state accepted 19,545 refugees from Iraq and Syria — two of the seven countries affected by Trump’s ban.

“People would say that if you landed here at 9 p.m., you can have a job at 9 the next morning,” Ibrahim Kazerooni, the imam at Dearborn’s Islamic Center of America, said in an interview. “We have many people in our community who work at Ford. We’re a part of this community.”

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Plans for 26 refugees to immigrate to the Detroit area from Iraq and Syria in the next week have been canceled, said Lynne Golodner, spokeswoman for Samaritas, formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, which has a contract with the state to help asylum seekers settle and find employment.

Trump took special aim at Ford during the campaign and the automaker has worked to get back in his good graces. Bill Ford, a great-grandson of the founder Henry, has said he can always get a hold of Trump, or the president calls him. Fields, the CEO, visited the White House on back-to-back days last week to discuss jobs, fuel-economy standards, and even Oval Office decor.

Much of the auto industry was silent on the immigration order during the weekend. Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president for product development, declined to discuss Trump’s immigration policy during a fuel cell vehicles press conference Monday. Representatives for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., and Honda Motor Co. declined to comment.