Wednesday 26 September 2018

Tech chiefs attack US border family separations

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

Gerrit De Vynck

Tech heavyweights from Apple CEO Tim Cook to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg joined a chorus of Americans denouncing the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented children from their families at the US border.

Executives from Airbnb, Box, and Twilio denounced the separations, which started in April when the US decided to pursue criminal charges against people who crossed the Mexico border without proper documents. More than 2,000 children have so far been taken from their parents and are being kept in detention facilities.

"It's heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. What's happening is inhumane, it needs to stop," Apple's Cook said in Dublin on Tuesday.

Some, including Zuckerberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, implored their social-media followers to donate to legal and humanitarian groups that support the migrant families. "I've donated to them and I encourage you to as well. We need to stop this policy right now," Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.

Beyond the tweets and individual financial donations, there's no sign that tech companies plan anything concrete, like pulling contracts from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other government agencies, as some migrant advocates are demanding.

Tech executives aren't alone in opposition to the family-separation policy, with the Business Roundtable issuing a statement on Tuesday calling the practice "cruel" and "contrary to American values". JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in an internal memo that he "strongly" agreed with the business group's statement, CNBC reported.

For tech firms, it highlights a core paradox of 2018: How to keep their largely progressive workforce happy without wading into political fights that might hurt sales or taint their reputation with conservative consumers and politicians.

Earlier this year, a debate erupted inside Google over a contract the company has with the US Defence Department to provide image-recognition software for analysing drone footage. More than 4,000 employees demanded Google end the deal, and some quit in protest. Google relented and plans to let the contract expire next year - a potential blow to its recent efforts to work more with the Pentagon.

Some executives stopped short of criticising the Trump policy directly. Microsoft deleted, then reinstated parts of a blog post about how it was proud to provide ICE with cloud-computing services. Under fire over that contract, CEO Satya Nadella called attention to his own journey to the US as an immigrant in a LinkedIn post, calling for "change in the inhumane treatment of children at the US border".

Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted "the stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way."

Elon Musk, who is a near-constant presence on Twitter, tweeted a song by the band The xx called 'Shelter', and wrote "I hope the kids are ok".

When other Twitter users called him out for what they saw as a flippant comment, he replied immediately: "I couldn't even keep the US in the Paris Accord, but if there is some way for me to help these kids I will do so. I am one of the top donors to @ACLU." (Bloomberg)

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