A petition signed by more than 150 employees started circulating Tuesday, asking Microsoft to cancel its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Microsoft employees are asking the company to cancel a contract it has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid growing criticism of the agency’s policies that have caused thousands of migrant children to be separated from their parents at the border with Mexico.
In an open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, employees said they were “dismayed” to learn that Microsoft has a $19.4 million contract with ICE to provide cloud-computing services.
“As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit,” the employees said in the letter, obtained by The Seattle Times. “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.”
Microsoft commented late Tuesday after the employees’ letter, which was first reported by The New York Times, was posted on a company message board Tuesday. Nadella sent an email to all employees, calling the administration’s policy “cruel and abusive.”
Microsoft’s work with ICE involves supporting email, calendar and document systems, Nadella wrote.
“I want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border,” he wrote.
The employee letter gained more than 150 signatures in about five hours, and employees say they expect that tally to keep growing.
Microsoft first addressed the issue Monday after a blog post that a company executive wrote in January resurfaced online. In it, the company expressed pride at working with the immigration agency.
After backlash in the last few days, the company issued a statement saying its work with ICE did not include “any projects related to separating children from their families at the border.” It also urged the Trump administration to change that policy.
But for some employees, that first statement was not enough.
“We are providing the technical undergirding in support of an agency that is actively enforcing this inhumane policy,” the letter read, saying the company’s assurance Monday that it wasn’t aware of specific ICE projects that involved separating families “does not go far enough.”
U.S. tech employees are often outspoken on political and human rights issues, including President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries and LGBT rights. The migrant children issue has struck a similar chord, prompting executives and employees from other tech companies, including Facebook and Google, to condemn the practice.
At Microsoft, “Employees are more upset than I’ve seen in 15 years in the workplace,” one worker said Tuesday, before Nadella sent his email.
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Politicians from both parties have spoken out against the immigration policy of separating families at the Mexican border, and criticism has reached a fever pitch online as pictures of children in cages with foil blankets are widely circulated.
Microsoft President Brad Smith posted a wide-ranging blog about U.S. immigration late Tuesday night, addressing attempts by Congress to halt the separation of children from their families. It did not address the company’s contract with ICE or the employee letter.
His post called on Congress to improve security at the border while also remembering the “fundamental decency and humanitarian spirit that defines us as a people and a nation.”
Microsoft has been politically active on immigration issues in the last couple years, opposing the Muslim travel ban and supporting Dreamers, young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, in statements and court cases.
“Any engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles,” Nadella wrote. “We will continue to have this dialogue both within our company and with our stakeholders outside.”
Some Microsoft employees expressed optimism earlier Tuesday that the company will address the ICE issue head-on and review its contract with the agency.
“I’m very hopeful that our leadership will hear us and they will respond the right way – they will do the right thing,” said one employee who signed Tuesday’s letter.