Tech CEOs voice opposition to family separations at border

Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple Inc., arrives at the China Development Forum (CDF) in Beijing, China, on Saturday, March 24, 2018. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: Tech heavyweights from Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to Facebook Inc. boss Mark Zuckerberg joined a chorus of Americans denouncing the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented children from their families at the border. But it’s unclear whether the industry has any real leverage to stop the practice.

Top executives from Airbnb Inc., Box Inc., and Twilio Inc. denounced the separations, which started in April when the US decided to pursue criminal charges against people who attempt to cross the US-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. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop,” Apple’s Cook said in Dublin on Tuesday, according to the Irish Times.

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.

Next Steps
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 and other government agencies, as some migrant advocates are demanding. Unlike other government policies — such as a North Carolina law (since repealed) that required transgender residents to use the restroom that matched their birth certificate — companies can’t threaten to pull employees or investment out of a geographic area in this case.

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

“Fixing these issues will clearly boost the economy and help companies like ours hire great talent,” Dimon was quoted as saying. “More importantly, it will reflect our American and core human values of fairness, decency and mutual respect.”

Core Paradox
For tech companies, the debate 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 Defense Department to provide image-recognition software for analyzing 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 and other government agencies.

Some executives stopped short of criticizing 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, President Brad Smith penned a long blog post Tuesday, in which he emphasized the software company’s past efforts in protecting immigrant children and opposed the reduction of legal immigration.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, wrote on Twitter that “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 on an important subject, 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.”