The CEO of GitHub — a popular platform for hosting, sharing, and reviewing code — on Tuesday pledged to donate $500,000 to nonprofit groups supporting immigration communities targeted by the Trump administration.
Some employees at GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, said in an open letter obtained by The Washington Post they interpreted the donation as a way to mitigate GitHub’s recent decision to renew a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency licenses a version of GitHub’s software which can be used to store, host, and collaborate on code.
But those employees object to ICE’s treatment of immigrants, as well as their company’s role in helping ICE, and say philanthropy can’t make up for the damage to individuals and families.
“We cannot offset human lives with money,” employee activists wrote in the letter to chief executive Nat Friedman on Wednesday morning. “There is no donation that can offset the harm that ICE is perpetrating with the help of our labor.”
The letter received more than 150 signatures out of roughly 1,300 GitHub employees in less than an hour, including a signature from one of the company’s vice presidents, according to an employee who opposes the contract.
GitHub did not immediately respond to questions, but pointed to Friedman’s Tuesday memo as the company’s statement on its contract with ICE. Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his memo, Friedman said that the ICE contract began in April 2016 as a license agreement to use GitHub servers and that the original purchase and recent renewal of the contract were done through a third-party reseller partner. He also and that the revenue from the purchase is less than $200,000.
Friedman added that the $500,000 donation is “in excess of the value purchase by ICE.”
The letter is part of a sustained protest from tech employees over the past couple years in opposition to the Trump administration’s use of tech provided by their employers to enforce immigration policies. Amazon, Microsoft, Palantir, and other tech giants have faced internal consternation that tech from their companies is being used for that purpose. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Last year, Microsoft employees posted an open letter protesting the company’s work with ICE.
A few weeks ago, the CEO of Chef, a Seattle-based software company, agreed not to renew a contract with ICE, reversing his position after employee protest, including deleting code from GitHub. GitHub is used by 40 million developers and serves as a pillar of the open source software community.
Some GitHub employees have been meeting with company leadership since July to oppose the contract with ICE, according to the employee. During a meeting last week, some activist employees told those in leadership that a donation would not suffice and that the company needed to cancel the contract, according to the employee. The employee said activists inside GitHub planned to circulate an internal petition protesting the company’s work with ICE this week.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Friedman sent the companywide memo promising the $500,000 donation.
Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion by Microsoft in June 2018, and the company operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Before the acquisition, GitHub raised $350 million in venture capital funding.