The revelation that American Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been separating families at the border has not gone over well among much of the populace—at least, the portion of the populace that doesn't work for Donald Trump. Trump himself keeps (falsely) blaming the Democrats when it was his attorney general who decided that the best way to discourage people from immigrating or seeking asylum on the United States' southern border is to steal their kids and house them in old Walmarts. Congress is stalled (as per usual), and even Republicans like former first lady Laura Bush have spoken out about this practice. Pretty much everyone with a sliver of a heart (including Melania) agrees: Separating families trying to immigrate is cruel, unusual, and completely unnecessary. And so, when it came out on Twitter over the weekend that Microsoft has been working with ICE, the heat quickly turned onto the tech giant.
In January 2018, Microsoft published a blog post about its work on Azure Government, a cloud computing service for government agencies and contractors—including ICE. "ICE's decision to accelerate IT modernization using Azure Government will help them innovate faster while reducing the burden of legacy IT," the post reads. "The agency is currently implementing transformative technologies for homeland security and public safety, and we're proud to support this work with our mission-critical cloud."
However, working with ICE seems directly at odds with a company that depends on immigration and guest workers to fill out its workforce. In January 2017, shortly after Trump took office and announced an unconstitutional ban on travelers from Muslim countries, Microsoft spoke out in support of immigration, including guest worker programs and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Company CEO Satya Nadella is himself an immigrant: “As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” Nadella wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”
By working with ICE, Microsoft certainly appears to be on the wrong side of history, and some (both in and outside of the company) are calling for action. On Twitter, calls for a boycott have started to gain to steam.
Friends who work for @Microsoft,
FIGHT THIS. Make the biggest noise imaginable about it.
Don't fall for the "all companies take government contracts" spin. Your company has THIS contract and is *proud* of it.
Resources are available to help you fight. I believe in you.💖 https://t.co/P19aEWR45n
— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) June 18, 2018
Mat Marquis, an indenpendent web developer in Massachusetts, said on Twitter that he has ended his contract with the company.
I’ve terminated my contract with @Microsoft.https://t.co/GkvLBXxFjs
They have an outstanding invoice which, upon receipt, I will be donating to https://t.co/TIlNWOGSQS
— Mat Marquis (@wilto) June 18, 2018
"I’m in a position of immense privilege, working in tech," Marquis told me. "It would be easy, I think, to think of this work as neutral—solve little code puzzles, put a semicolon in the right place and an error goes away; make the website faster than yesterday. Whenever I take on a project, I try my damnedest not to think of it that way; what’s the bigger picture for the thing I’m building, how can it be used, who am I supporting with it, who benefits, who bears the costs? I didn’t work with the Azure team; I would never have ended up there, considering my skillset. But I won’t lend my name to a company that supports this nightmarish policy, either explicitly or implicitly."
Microsoft is not the first company to face public backlash for working with unpalatable government programs. This spring, over 3,000 Google employees signed a petition calling on the company to sever its ties with a Pentagon program that potentially* used Google tech to aid in drone strikes, and, according to Gizmodo, over a dozen employees resigned. Earlier this month, the company announced they will not renew their contract when it expires next year.
Amazon has connections with ICE as well. Palantir Technologies, which was founded by Trump supporter Peter Thiel, was awarded a $41 million contract to build and maintain databases that ICE uses to track immigrants. Using Palantir, ICE agents can "access to information on a subject’s schooling, family relationships, employment information, phone records, immigration history, foreign exchange program status, personal connections, biometric traits, criminal records, and home and work addresses," according to the Intercept. And Palantir is hosted by Amazon Web Services, says Jacinta Gonzalez, senior organizer with Mijente, an organization working to stop deportations. "You can see how politicians, investors, and private companies are connected in various ways," she says.
"Since Sessions started enforcing zero tolerance, they are separating thousands of children from parents and putting them in children's prisons," Gonzalez adds. "But they are also prosecuting their parents, which is how they justify the family separation." And parents being prosecuted for criminal entry or reentry can face up to 20 years in prison—just for migrating.
Of course, Congress could act: They could recall the sections of the law that make unauthorized entry and reentry criminal. They could abolish ICE. But with Republicans in control of the Congress and Trump in the White House, none of this will happen. So, having little faith that the government will listen, people are turning to the companies that support them instead. And, perhaps, some are responding: “As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border," a spokesperson for the company responded via e-mail, when I reached out to Microsoft about the issue. "Family unification has been a fundamental tenant of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company, Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.”
Perhaps if Microsoft actually starts ending some contracts, Trump will actually listen.
*The word "potentially" has been added here at the behest of a Google PR person who emailed me twice. According to him, the tech COULD be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes, not IS. I regret the error. Slightly.