UC Berkeley students protest Amazon’s ties with ICE

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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Cal Bears Against ICE held a protest at an Amazon recruitment session on campus Wednesday evening to contest campus relations with companies holding contractual agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

The protest follows a Cal Bears Against ICE petition that led to Silicon Valley software giant Palantir canceling an informational session with the electrical engineering and computer science department, or EECS. Campus students are pressuring the campus to drop partnerships with big tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce that have affiliations with ICE.

The protest occurred in Soda Hall, where about 100 students gathered for the Amazon recruitment session at 5:30 p.m. Prior to the start of the presentation, members of Cal Bears Against ICE spoke with students about the collaboration between large tech companies and ICE. The protesters then waited to interrupt the recruitment session until Amazon representatives began to discuss the company’s core values.

Liza Mamedov-Turchinsky, an organizer for Cal Bears Against ICE, noted that the company failed to discuss topics such as the facial recognition software that it had previously pitched to ICE.

“It’s part of a larger movement to get ICE collaborators off universities in general,” Mamedov-Turchinsky said. “We want students to be shocked with something, and then look it up later and continue to have conversations.”

Mamedov-Turchinsky said Cal Bears Against ICE is calling on the companies to change their policies and drop their contracts with ICE. Along with that, she said the organization is calling upon the campus stop all involvement with Palantir and Amazon while they continue to contract with ICE, and drop these companies from campus’s Corporate Access Program, or CAP, which recruits students for employment.
Mamedov-Turchinsky added Cal Bears Against ICE will continue “mobilizing and organizing until Palantir and Amazon withdraw” their contacts.

Microsoft senior account executive Casey Johnson said in an email to The Daily Californian that “the company has nothing to share on the matter.”

Bennett Agnew, director of external relations in the UC Berkeley EECS department, noted in an email that the department neither restricts nor endorses companies looking to join CAP, and that students should be able to judge for themselves which companies they want to join.

Campus senior Sathvik Nair said in an email that constituents of any institution have a duty to hold their establishments accountable for their actions.

“Palantir’s Integrated Case Management and FALCON softwares are built specifically for ICE to track, deport, and detain immigrants. The agency is conflating issues of immigration and criminal enforcement, and especially during the Trump administration, much of their work revolves around detaining people who have not committed any serious crimes,” Nair said in the email.

As a computer science student who intends to work in the tech industry, Nair said the field of computer science is being held accountable more often for its ethical decisions.

“Shining the light on ICE’s contracts is only the tip of the iceberg,” Nair said in the email. “We want to open a larger conversation about the relationship between technology and the state and about data privacy. We want to work to create an institution that honors its commitments to the use of technology to improve society and respect the rights of citizens. There’s so much to do, and divestment from unjust causes is only the first step.”

Contact Olivia Buccieri and Sebastian Cahill at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article said Cal Bears Against ICE is calling for Palantir and Amazon to drop out of the campus’s Corporate Access Program. In fact, Cal Bears Against ICE is calling for the campus to drop their ties to Palantir and Amazon, including their involvement in the Corporate Access Program.