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Protesters at Amazon summit demand firm break ties with federal agencies

Immigrants and workers want the tech giant to cease its relationships with Ice and the Department of Homeland Security

Protesters at Amazon summit demand firm break ties with federal agencies
Protesters demonstrated outside of the Amazon Web Services summit on Thursday. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Hundreds of protestors demonstrated outside of the annual Amazon Web Services summit in New York on Thursday, demanding the tech giant cut ties with government agencies that take part in immigrant deportations.

The demonstrators, including Amazon warehouse workers, other tech employees, and immigrants outside the tech world, are calling on Amazon to cease its relationships with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and the Department of Homeland Security. Amazon Web Services hosts DHS databases that allow the department and its agencies to track and apprehend immigrants. It is also in talks to expand a partnership to host new DHS biometric databases that store more extensive data, including eye color, tattoos, and other identifiers.

Amazon services are essential to the workings of agencies like Ice, Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization that participated in the protest, said. “That’s why immigrants and allies have come together to make sure that Amazon is held accountable. We want them to stop profiting off our lives!”

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Organizations involved in the protest include immigration rights groups Make the Road New York and Mijente, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Tech Worker Coalition – a collective of tech workers who advocate for progressive change in the industry.

In addition to the protests outside the event, a coalition of 30 protestors interrupted Amazon chief technology officer Werner Vogel multiple times during his morning keynote address, playing audio of crying immigrant children in detention. They shouted, “Amazon, how much longer will you have blood on your hands? Cut ties with Ice!”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment regarding the protests and its contracts with federal agencies. As the Trump administration ramps up its crackdown on immigration, tech companies have increasingly come under fire for their cooperation with government organizations.

Palantir, the CIA-backed data-mining firm co-founded by Donald Trump ally Peter Thiel, has faced ongoing criticism and actions from tech workers over its work with US immigration authorities. In June, hundreds of employees of online home goods company Wayfair walked off the job to protest its involvement in furnishing border detention facilities holding children. In September 2018, workers at Salesforce pressured the company to cancel its contract with US Customs and Border Protection. The company ultimately declined to sever ties with the law enforcement agency.

These actions come as Ice is set to begin nationwide raids on Sunday to arrest thousands of undocumented immigrants. The raids will coincide with Amazon’s Prime day, a yearly sale that made the company more than $4bn in 2018. The groups behind Thursday’s protest plan to take a bite out of that profit by continuing action on Monday to encourage workers to strike and customers to avoid purchasing from the company.

“Amazon’s role in hurting immigrant families and asylum seekers is just one of the ways it’s hurting American communities,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN. “It’s only able to commit these atrocities because it’s a monopoly with unlimited resources and immense power. We can’t afford to wait around for corporate empires like that to grow a conscience.”

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