Tim Boyle, chief executive officer of Columbia Sportswear, confessed to a roomful of FBI agents this week that his grandfather likely immigrated here illegally from Ireland.
What’s more, he and his family are running an Oregon company of more than 6,100 employees only because the U.S. welcomed a boatload of Jewish children, including his mother, Gert Boyle, escaping Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
Immigration “is very personal to me,” Boyle said Thursday after addressing about 100 FBI personnel at the agency’s Northeast Portland office. “When you think about it, the whole country is a bunch of immigrants.”
The CEO’s comments come as the implications of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policies are beginning to manifest. Federal officials are referring for prosecution all undocumented migrants crossing the southern border. As a result, border agents are separating children from parents and detaining them separately as the cases are adjudicated.
The U.S. is currently holding 10,773 migrant children in custody, though it’s unclear how many of them were forcibly separated from their parents. Critics condemn such separations as cruel and immoral, they have prompted a group of Democratic senators – including Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden — to introduce legislation Thursday to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from continuing the practice.
Boyle slammed the new policies as being at odds with American tradition.
“I think it’s just a travesty what’s happening,” he said. “I think it’s just to the detriment of the country.”
Boyle noted that President Donald Trump refers to some immigrants as “animals,” much the same way that Adolf Hitler did about Jews.
The country’s dramatic shift on immigration under Trump has real-world implications for Columbia Sportswear. International customers hesitate to visit the Northwest Portland company’s headquarters for fear they could get stuck here in some immigration foul-up, he said. And some of his own IT employees who are in this country on a green card don’t want to travel to China to work on a technology project due to the same concern.
“The policies are just so capricious,” Boyle said. “I don’t blame them.”
Renn Cannon, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland office, introduced Boyle as the man who did more to change the debate about public safety in the city than perhaps anyone else. Cannon was referring to when Boyle threatened to close the company’s downtown retail store due to concerns for the safety of employees after a series of run-ins with street people.
The threat caused much soul-searching among downtown leaders and led to plenty of criticism of Boyle. He has since pledged to donate $1.5 million to a local homeless project.
“It really exposed me to the wider problem of homelessness — a problem that I think is beyond the capability of politicians to solve,” he said. “Private citizens and businesses need to get involved and that’s what I’m doing.”
Boyle returned to the topic of immigration, reading the famous lines from the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
— Jeff Manning