Now, as he prepares to launch a new local tech startup, Brar is paying tribute to his immigrant roots by organizing donations to help Syrian refugee families resettling in the United States and fundraising for the ACLU—responses to former Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s 2015 ban on Syrian asylum-seekers and President Donald Trump’s recent executive order restricting travel from seven foreign countries.
In an interview with IM, Brar explained why those causes matter for business—and for him personally.
Why do you support refugee resettlement?
No one is going to disagree with the following statement: We should try to not have terrorists show up in the United States. Check. I agree!
But I think there are policies that are poorly executed. Then there’s the executive order. I get it, we have to be careful, but there is a right and wrong way to execute it. My parents wouldn’t be on the list of one of those seven countries mentioned in Trump’s executive order, but at some point we can’t just wave a magic wand. India alone has tens of millions of Muslims. Do we just keep extending and extending? My mom’s also a green-card holder. It just starts to get very personal.
This country is about opportunity, and we should be embracing the world’s best and brightest here. My issues aren’t that we shouldn’t be careful, but it’s one thing to make a decision and another to execute it. I think this last order was just very poorly executed.
How did you react to Governor Pence halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana?
I tried to do something positive and reached out to friends on social media, to see if they were interested in contributing when my wife and I made a donation to the group on the East Coast where that Syrian family was taken [after being barred from resettling in Indiana]. We sent funds to show that Hoosiers care, and Governor Pence didn’t speak for me on this issue. If we couldn’t welcome them to our community, then we would find ways to send money to them on the East Coast.
I just imagined the weeks that you are preparing your children and telling them where you’re going, but all the sudden you have to explain that they’re not welcome there.
“It’s not just believing in it as a human and for humanity and for morality,” says Brar. “Honestly, I view it for business as well.
I just want the city to have access to the best talent in the world.”
What other actions have you taken?
A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I did a matching-gifts campaign to raise money for the ACLU [which has challenged the executive order in federal court]. In one weekend, we were able to raise more than $5,000. It felt good to do something positive. I think what’s not effective is yelling and screaming and calling each other names. We believe in dialogue, and we decided to put our money where our mouths were.
What bothers you most about today’s immigration debate?
One of my real irritations is the issue of “the wall” and Mexico. Does anyone personally know any illegal Mexican that is bothering you right now? I really don’t understand the root cause. Are there droves of people lining up to do the hard work that [the immigrants] are doing in America?
As a business person, I think about talent all the time. To me, we are going to be the best country if we have the best talent, the best city if we have the best talent, and the best company if we have the best talent. It’s not just believing in it as a human and for humanity and for morality. Honestly, I view it for business as well. I just want the city to have access to the best talent in the world.
Where did your parents work after they immigrated to the United States?
My dad started off as a cashier, and then he became assistant manager, and eventually manager of convenience stores. My mom did everything from working at day-cares, to being an assistant, to working at nursing homes. My grandfather was in the Indian air force and then lived with us in the U.S. for a time.
Does your grandfather still live here?
He actually passed away. Right before 9/11, my wife and I got married. Though my grandfather had lived in the states for 15 years before moving back to India, [the government] wouldn’t approve his visa to come to my wedding. They wouldn’t give any reason why he wasn’t permitted and still haven’t to this day. He died a few months later and never got to meet my wife. It’s just kind of heartbreaking that these decisions are made, but there’s no rationale.
Do you think your parents’ background as immigrants has helped in your career?
Yes! It’s like a hustle. You see your mom and dad hustle to make it here, and they’re not waiting on anyone to help them. I believe in individual accountability, and I own making it happen for myself. My dad showed up in this country, and a few days later he was mowing a golf course for some 70 cents an hour. In my childhood, the immigrant story was one of hard work, hustle, and opportunity.
Honestly, I don’t have as much exposure today—maybe I’m living in this echo chamber—where the immigrant story is a massive drain to our society. I’m not saying there aren’t challenges and problems. But what was instilled in me is that first view, and now as a business leader and a person I don’t wait for someone else to solve problems. The first time I took my dad to the country club [as a member], he was in tears, because the whole thing had just finally come full circle. He fought the hard fight for his children, which is what the immigrant story really is.