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Who’s Behind ICE? How Amazon, Palantir, Microsoft & Tech Giants Are Powering Trump’s Deportations

StoryOctober 24, 2018
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A shocking new investigation by immigrant rights groups reveals how corporations like Amazon, Palantir and Microsoft are profiting from and expediting Trump’s incarceration and deportation operations. Some 10 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s $44 billion budget is dedicated to data management. The report was published as new documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight show Amazon is pushing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to start using its controversial facial recognition technology that could identify immigrants in real time by scanning faces in a video feed. We speak with Jacinta González, organizer with Mijente, a national political hub for Latinx organizing. The group partnered with the Immigrant Defense Project and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on the new report titled “Who’s Behind ICE? The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show looking at a shocking new report titled “Who’s Behind ICE? The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations.” The new report by Mijente, the National Immigration Project and the Immigrant Defense Project details how corporations like Amazon, Palantir and Microsoft are profiting from and expediting President Trump’s incarceration and deportation operations. Currently about 10 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s $44 billion budget is dedicated to data management. The report is being published as new documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight show that Amazon is pushing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to start using its controversial facial recognition technology that could identify immigrants in real time by scanning faces in a video feed.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Phoenix, Arizona, where we’re joined by Jacinta González, an organizer with Mijente, a national political hub for Latinx organizing, which co-wrote the “Who’s Behind ICE?” report.

Jacinta, tell us what you found.

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: Good morning, Amy. Thank you so much for having us.

You know, what we really found in this report is understanding that the tech industry, Silicon Valley, is really changing the way we see Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the ground. We’ve been seeing for a while added capabilities to be able to surveil people, be able to input new sources of data, including private sources, like medical bills, different records from different companies. Even your phone bill, for example, is getting into these records. And that’s how immigration is able to conduct their raids and go door to door, terrorizing communities and really impacting families every day that are devastated by their separations. And so, what was really revealed in this report is that there’s tech industries, private companies, that are helping create these programs for ICE, but also other tech companies, like Amazon, for example, are expanding their budget by basically being able to offer cloud services to the government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and could you talk about the disproportionate impact that Amazon now has on cloud services for government agencies?

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: You know, back in 2010, Amazon and many other tech companies began to lobby the government to say that you should have cloud services to be able to digitize all of your files. And what they basically did was ensure a very, very lucrative contract. To be able to store information for the government, you have to have FedRAMP authorizations. That’s their way of being able to say that you’re able to hold information for the government. And Amazon has 204 authorizations, compared to other companies, like Google, that have less than 30. And so, we really see that Amazon has been monopolizing this industry and making sure that they’re profiting tremendously off of both war and the war on immigrants in home.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the individual companies that you found in who’s funding ICE, who is backing up, who’s profiting from the deportation system that’s going on now.

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: One of the primary companies that we identified was a company named Palantir. And Palantir was literally founded by money that was invested from the CIA and Peter Thiel, who many of us know is a strong supporter of Mr. Trump, to create this company that would be able to do data processing, data mining, has been involved in multiple international scandals, including Cambridge Analytica, and is basically creating the backbone of ICE. It is creating the investigative case management system that ICE uses to be able to track immigrants, to be able to surveil them and, finally, organize their deportation. But what we’re seeing is that they’re able—Palantir is able to develop this technology to attack immigrants, yet, somehow, whenever they separate children from their parents at the border, they lose track of them and aren’t able to find out where they are. So we really are able to see, through these technologies, what they’re prioritizing, but also who is behind this. It’s the CIA. It’s Peter Thiel. It’s business interests that are trying to expand Trump’s agenda.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the things I think your report talks about is the pushback that many of these tech companies have gotten from their own employees, who do not feel comfortable with their companies taking such a huge role in things like ICE and other government storage projects. Could you talk about that, as well, and how Amazon is distinct even in this area?

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: Yes. I think one of the things that has been exciting is, even though we see companies come up and make millions of dollars—billions of dollars off of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we also see workers within these companies with a conscience rising up and saying, “We’re not OK with this. We’re organizing against our employers, and we have a right to speak about what we’re helping to build.” And so we’ve seen exciting movements happen within corporations, that are having workers sign petitions, talk to their CEOs, talk to people who have the power to make these decisions. We’ve seen it inside of companies like Salesforce. We’ve seen it inside of companies like Amazon. We’ve heard rumors of it actually even happening within Palantir.

And so, we actually really want to encourage workers who are trying to organize, who are trying to have some sort of voice in this, because we know that these are not times to be neutral. No one—you know, we are very clear on what the Trump agenda is, Jeff Sessions’ agenda. They want to attack. They want to incarcerate. They want to deport. And so it’s up to us to decide what our response is going to be. And we really want to make sure that people are not being compliant, not compliant inside of the companies that are helping set up these infrastructures and not compliant with the racist enforcement regime that is being imposed. We have ways of changing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the sharing of biometric information with the Mexican government, these corporations doing that, Jacinta?

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. So, there’s many companies, like Dev Technology, that are actually developing technology and have contracts in Mexico to be sharing data. And so, we see it, on some levels, inside of the Mexican Institute of immigration sharing information, but we’ve seen even more concerning contracts where they’re trying to share information that’s coming from voter records in Mexico, the voter ID cards, being able to share that information. And so we see, through the Plan Mérida, Plan Frontera Sur, other militarization programs that the U.S. has been imposing in Mexico, they’ve been investing also millions and billions of dollars into the development of technology to be able to track and control migrants. And that’s what’s leading the crisis that we have now. Instead of investing in things that will allow governments to be able to provide for their communities, for people to be able to live dignified lives in their home countries, we see the U.S. intervening in politics, investing in militarization, which just creates more instability and forces people to migrate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jacinta, we have only about a minute left, but I wanted to ask you about a New York Times story published recently called “Silicon Valley’s Saudi Arabia Problem,” in light of what’s been going on in terms of the assassination of a journalist by the Saudi government. This whole issue of Saudi Arabia investing heavily in Silicon Valley through the Japanese company SoftBank?

JACINTA GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. I mean, what we’re seeing now more than ever is we have corporations in Silicon Valley and other places in the world that are amassing more power, more money, more information than anyone else has. I mean, Amazon at this point literally knows what your favorite type of blender is and is holding your entire police file. We have to be able to have more accountability from these corporations. We need to be able to ensure that they are respecting basic human rights. And if the government isn’t willing to step up to do it, we know that workers inside are going to be able to organize, and also the general public is able to push back on them. But we know that more and more corporations are starting to influence international politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacinta González, we thank you very much for being with us, with the group Mijente.

That does it for today’s broadcast. I’ll be speaking tonight in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, at Soka University. Check our website. Juan González will be speaking at Rutgers on Friday night with Oscar López Rivera. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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