In June, a viral Facebook fundraiser for the Texas-based nonprofit RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) brought in over $20 million to support legal assistance for families separated at the border under Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
That money represents a 40-fold increase in funds from last year, and testifies to the acute need for the organization and its services this year: Well over 2,500 families have faced separation and persecution at the border, and with costs per immigration case hovering between $1,000 and $10,000 (sometimes more, depending on the complexity of the situation), the organization needs all the funding it can get.
But on Thursday, July 19, RAICES turned away a $250,000 donation from Salesforce. In late June, a group of Salesforce employees wrote to founder and CEO Marc Benioff, asking that he reassess the company’s contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the law enforcement agency responsible for detaining thousands of immigrants as they attempt to enter the U.S. In the letter, signed by over 650 employees, they expressed concern that in providing CBP with a number of its products, including Service Cloud. which ICE uses to manage recruiting and to “drive efficiencies around border management.” the company is going against its stated values of standing up for human rights, and rendering its employees “complicit in the inhumane treatment of vulnerable people.”
Salesforce declined to end the contract and instead pledged $1 million to help families affected by the Trump administration policy. Part of that $1 million was the donation offer to RAICES. But in an email shown to Fast Company, RAICES made its position clear to Salesforce. “After careful consideration by our staff, we have decided to decline this gift unless Salesforce commits to cancel all direct or indirect contracts with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as principled Salesforce employees have demanded,” RAICES executive director Jonathan Ryan wrote, adding:
“When it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies, we want to be clear: the only right action is to stop. The software and technical services you provide to CBP form part of the foundation that helps ICE operate efficiently, from recruiting more officers to managing vendors. While you justified continuing your contract with CBP by claiming that Salesforce software “isn’t working with CBP regarding the separation of families at the border”, this is not enough.
Your software provides an operational backbone for the agency, and thus does directly support CBP in implementing its inhumane and immoral policies. There is no way around this, and there is no room for hair splitting when children are being brutally torn away from parents, when a mother attempts suicide in an effort to get her children released, and when an 18 month old baby is separated from their mother in detention.”
Salesforce is not alone in facing pressure from their employees: Workers at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have also called on their companies to end contracts with government agencies like CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But by refusing to accept Salesforce’s money, RAICES is saying that companies can’t just paper over their harmful business practices with big donations–they have to seriously reconsider who and what they are supporting with their tools and resources. While tech companies may claim that their products are neutral, their contracts with the government agencies responsible for the inhumane separation of families and treatment of immigrants at the border are anything but. Tech has to wake up to the fact that whose hands their products end up in can matter as much as the products themselves.
Salesforce responded to Ryan’s email saying that they will not cancel the contract, and respect RAICES’s decision to refuse their money.