July 31, 2018
By: Caroline O'Donovan
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the data analysis company Palantir in Palo Alto, California, on Tuesday to present Palantir’s employees and CEO Alex Karp with a letter asking for an end to the company’s contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"We are here today outside of Palantir Headquarters to ask you to cancel your contract with ICE, and to call on any and all employees of Palantir to demand that the company drop its relationship with the agency," their letter says. ICE became the subject of widespread criticism after the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy led to an increase in immigrant children being separated from their families at the US–Mexico border. However, the progressive movement to abolish ICE, which was founded in 2003, predates that controversy.
Fourteen activist groups and social justice campaigns, including Fight for $15, Silicon Valley Rising, and Tech Workers Coalition, signed the letter. No Palantir employees joined them.
The Palantir protesters are part of a national day of action against businesses, schools, and local governments that have ties to ICE and other government agencies that deal with immigration issues. Protesters using the #WeWontBeComplicit hashtag planned marches in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, where they targeted tech companies including Comcast, Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce.
After reading the letter out loud outside Palantir’s offices, the protesters knocked on the building’s door in an attempt to deliver their letter.
"We’re going to see if they have the guts to open the door and listen to our youth leaders," said a Silicon Valley Rising activist. When Palantir employees inside refused to open the door or accept the letter, the protesters taped it to the door.
Palantir did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the incident.
Palantir currently has two contracts with ICE, one for $39 million that recently expired and another for $53 million that will expire next year, according to Gizmodo. The company’s software is also sold to the Los Angeles Police Department, which uses it to predict the likelihood that someone will commit a crime.
Other tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce, have also recently been urged by employees and activists to cancel contracts with ICE and US Customs and Border Protection.
The letter to Palantir employees noted how the employees "at Salesforce, Microsoft, and Amazon have recently protested and organized around similar ethical concerns."
"We ask that you follow their lead and use your position within Palantir to prevent ICE’s well-documented abuses of immigrants," it says.
But so far, none of those campaigns has succeeded. Salesforce has continually declined to cancel its contract with CBP, even after an immigrant rights nonprofit rejected a $250,000 donation from the company over the issue. And Microsoft has also decided to continue its contract, even after employees presented CEO Satya Nadella on Friday with a letter signed by 300,000 individuals asking him to end the company’s contract with ICE.
Here's the full text of the letter activists sent Palantir's CEO and employees:
Dear Alex Karp and Palantir Employees,
We are a coalition of immigrants rights advocates, tech workers, community organizations, and labor groups who are extremely concerned with the services Palantir provides to law enforcement, particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We are here today outside of Palantir Headquarters to ask you to cancel your contract with ICE, and to call on any and all employees of Palantir to demand that the company drop its relationship with the agency.
You have seen the pictures, read the stories, and watched the videos. Children and parents separated, moved from “the freezer” to “la perrera,” the kennel room; guards hurling racial epithets at mothers; hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse by guards. The mistreatment of immigrants by the agency has been extensively documented over the years.
We want to be clear that family separation is not a new practice; immigration officials have been separating families for years, but your software has made them more efficient at doing so. Immigration officials separate families at the border seeking asylum; incarcerate people indefinitely for months and years in deplorable detention centers; and fail to take action after conducting investigations into deaths at detention facilities. Many have lost their lives in detention centers, while trying to cross the border, or after being deported back to the country they fled. The abuse, mistreatment of, and violence against migrants and immigrants of color have been amplified by the current federal administration and exposed by courageous immigrants willing to risk their lives to share stories of abuse in detention facilities.
The buck stops at your door. You claim your company was founded on a “conviction that it’s essential to preserve fundamental principles of privacy and civil liberties while using data”, and that your team is “dedicated to working for the common good and doing what’s right.” Your internal ethical protocols have evidently failed to uphold that mission. Civil liberties extend to all human beings, regardless of the socially-constructed borders they cross.
To Mr. Karp: We know you have turned down business because of ethical concerns in the past and spoken at length about the need to protect civil liberties. We ask that you extend these concerns to our communities, the most vulnerable members of society, and forego a portion of your revenue to send a message that you will not abet human rights abuses.
To Palantir employees: It is time to stand up with immigrants around the country and demand that your company drop its ICE contract. Employees at Salesforce, Microsoft, and Amazon have recently protested and organized around similar ethical concerns. Workers at Amazon, where Palantir hosts your data, have made this ask. We ask that you follow their lead and use your position within Palantir to prevent ICE’s well-documented abuses of immigrants.
What’s happening at the American border is a national disgrace. It will be remembered by future generations as one of the lowest points in our history, and the stance of companies and people on this issue will be a litmus test for their ethical fortitude going forward.
Choose a side: Cancel your contracts with ICE, or be remembered as a company, and individually as people, that abetted human rights abuses condemned around the world.
Mijente, Tech Workers Coalition, Latinos United for America, Movimiento Cosecha, Fight for $15, Silicon Valley Rising, Working Partnerships US, South Bay Labor Council, Sacred Heart Community Services, USWW, SIREN, SURJ & Sacred Heart, APALA, and Wage Theft Coalition.