Jun 19, 2018

Tech takes on Trump's family separation policy

Protesters rally in front of an ICE detention facility on the National Day of Action for Children on June 1 in Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some in the tech industry raised their voices Monday to oppose the Trump administration’s policy of separating families accused of entering the country illegally — from CEOs condemning the practice to workers of all ranks contributing to fundraisers to help affected children. At the same time, Microsoft came under fire for its role supplying tech to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Context: It's not the first time the immigration debate has become a flashpoint in the strained relationship between Silicon Valley and President Trump. Just weeks into his presidency, tech CEOs spoke out against Trump’s travel ban, and many execs have been vocal on the DACA debate surrounding Dreamers.

What's happening now: So far, fewer execs have spoken out directly this time around, but the growing outcry suggests tensions are bubbling below the industry's surface.

Here's a recap of some of the big developments on Monday:

  • Microsoft found itself in the crosshairs for not only having ICE as a customer, but also having blogged in January that it was "proud" of that association. The company issued a statement saying it was "dismayed" with the administration's policy. Despite signs of discontent, only a few employees spoke out, including developer Larry Osterman and intern Courtney Brousseau.
  • While some of the best known CEOs and companies remained silent, there were plenty of critical voices from the tech industry. One of the sharpest statements came late Monday from Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, who wrote a blog post titled "Separating immigrant families isn’t just wrong, it’s a war crime."
  • A fundraiser on Facebook, created by techies Dave and Charlotte Willner (both former Facebook employees), raised more than $4 million for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services — the largest single fundraiser on Facebook ever, USA Today reports. "When we look at the faces of these children, we can’t help but see our own children’s faces," Charlotte Willner told the San Jose Mercury News.

Plus: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg donated an unspecified amount to their former employees' fundraiser. Other tech leaders voiced condemnations, including: Airbnb's founders, Box CEO Aaron Levie, SmugMug/Flickr CEO Don MacAskill, and CareZone CEO/former Sun exec Jonathan Schwartz.

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called the policy "inhumane" and that "it needs to stop," he said in an interview with The Irish Times, while YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called it "heartbreaking" in a tweet. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also tweeted in support of ending the policy.

My thought bubble: CEOs were quick to fire off tweets and Facebook posts condemning the travel ban, but a number of tech companies are now in a different political reality than a year and a half ago. Embroiled in controversies over privacy scandals, fake news facilitation and election meddling, companies that may otherwise be expressing their outrage perhaps have reason to keep a lower profile — at least until they see how the debate plays out.

  • There are those looking to get their deal approved or to have their products avoid being caught up in a trade war.
  • Together, this means the sharpest words came from the heads of smaller tech firms.

Go deeper: Axios' Stef Kight explains what happens when families cross the border. Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen discuss how Trump is resistingchanging the zero-tolerance border policy. Sam Baker reports that a top pediatrician is calling it "child abuse."

The story has been updated with new comments from Tim Cook, Susan Wojcicki, and Jack Dorsey.

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