An open letter posted internally and signed by more than 100 workers said Microsoft should cancel its contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has been separating migrant parents and their children at the border with Mexico.
SAN FRANCISCO — In an open letter posted to Microsoft’s internal message board Tuesday, more than 100 employees protested the software maker’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and asked the company to stop working with the agency, which has been separating migrant parents and their children at the border with Mexico.
“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” said the letter, which was addressed to CEO Satya Nadella. The letter pointed to a $19.4 million contract that Microsoft has with ICE for processing data and artificial-intelligence capabilities.
Calling the separation of families “inhumane,” the employees added: “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”
The letter is part of a wave of tech workers mobilizing this week against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that refers for criminal prosecution all immigrants apprehended crossing the border without authorization. The policy has resulted in about 2,000 children being separated from their migrant parents, raising a bipartisan outcry.
At Silicon Valley companies including Google, Apple and Facebook, employees have in recent days circulated internal emails asking for donations to nonprofit groups that support immigrants. Many have shared information about protests in San Francisco and Washington. And the workers have been putting pressure on their chief executives to respond.
That helped pave the way for numerous tech chief executives to speak up Tuesday. Apple’s chief, Tim Cook, in an interview with The Irish Times, called the immigration policy “heartbreaking.” Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, tweeted that he was a “top donor” to the American Civil Liberties Union and said that “if there is some way for me to help these kids I will do so.” Sundar Pichai of Google, Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber and Chuck Robbins of Cisco also tweeted their opposition to the policy.
On Facebook, two former employees of the social network started a fundraiser Saturday to collect $1,500 for migrants who needed legal assistance because of the new policy. By Tuesday afternoon, the effort had garnered more than $5 million from donors who included numerous tech workers, according to a spokeswoman for the fundraising drive.
Microsoft publicly promoted its work with ICE in January in a blog post, citing it as an example of the success of its technology.
At the same time, Microsoft has been positioning itself as tech’s moral leader. Nadella and Microsoft President Brad Smith have publicly said they want to protect user privacy and establish ethical guidelines for new technology like artificial intelligence.
“We need to ask ourselves not only what computers can do but what computers should do,” Nadella said at Microsoft’s developer conference last month.
Some Microsoft executives have objected to the Trump administration’s new immigration policy. On Sunday, Smith penned a LinkedIn post, saying the news of migrant children being taken from their families was “especially poignant.” He added, “When we keep children with their parents, we not only follow in the footsteps of one of the world’s oldest and most important humanitarian traditions, we help build a stronger country.”
Late Monday, Microsoft issued a statement to address the issue. The company said it was not working with federal agencies to separate children from their families at the border and was not aware of its services or products being used for that purpose. It also said it was “dismayed” by the immigration policy and urged that it be changed.
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But for many Microsoft employees, that was not satisfactory. A group of about a dozen employees began working together to draft the protest letter, in which they said the company’s statement “does not go far enough.”
The employees continued, “We are providing the technical undergirding in support of an agency that is actively enforcing this inhumane policy.”
The letter went on to add that Microsoft should not only cancel its contract with ICE but be open to a review of its contracts with government agencies domestically and internationally, and that it should create a policy stating it would not work with those “who violate international human rights law.”
Microsoft declined to comment on the employee letter, which was posted internally Tuesday afternoon. Within hours, it had received more than 100 signatures.