We Went to Burning Man to Tell Tech: Stop Supporting ICE

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Photos by Jackie Fielder and Marcos Ramirez

By Marisa Franco

In the midst of the twisted metal and neon light art installations of Burning Man, we added one more: a tall wooden cage, like those in prisons throughout the country where President Trump has locked away thousands of immigrants.

Immigrants have been rounded up and imprisoned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at an unprecedented rate under Trump. ICE’s actions have been enabled by tech companies like Palantir that give the agency critical software. At Burning Man, we aimed to remind tech workers that they are complicit in these abuses, and have the power to stop them.

Children have been separated from their parents, many of whom have already been deported. Even when reunited, the trauma stays — children shy away from their parents or burst into tears unexpectedly; one child has adopted a twisted version of cops and robbers, shackling “migrants” with plastic cuffs for fun.

We think this is obscene. We think it’s obscene that one desert hosts a bacchanal of art, drugs, sex, and dance while in the desert on our border, children are put in cages and migrants are rounded up en masse. We think it’s obscene that tech companies are paid millions of dollars to aid and abet human rights violations.

We think it’s obscene that many tech workers haven’t risen up to decry these actions, and we’re asking that they do so now.

Anyone who came to our installation at Burning Man got free ice, along with fans asking “Who’s Behind ICE?” and a picture the two tech execs most responsible for supporting ICE: Palantir CEO Alex Karp and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Palantir is “mission critical” for ICE. Its software lets the agency scour databases and build profiles of immigrants. ICE then tracks, captures, and deports them en masse, an operation that’s always cruel and sometimes deadly: In March, ICE agents mistakenly chased the wrong couple, killing both in a car crash and making orphans of six sons and daughters.

The brothers of Santos Hilario Garcia, along with his six children and relatives grieve during funeral services at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Delano for Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Perfecto, who were killed when their car overturned while fleeing federal immigration agents. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Amazon hosts Palantir’s software on its servers, and so it’s indirectly but materially responsible. It cannot hide behind claims of platform neutrality when it’s providing the operational foundation for Palantir.

Other tech firms like Microsoft, Salesforce, Hewlett-Packard, and more have contracts with ICE that keep the agency afloat in other ways, giving them email, customer support, and other software critical to their day to day operations.

These firms often say that they should be neutral, that the government’s actions are legal and it isn’t their jobs to make a political decision. This is unconvincing. Just as we should decry IBM for creating punch card systems for the Nazis during the Holocaust, we should decry tech firms for creating software for ICE’s internationally-condemned human rights abuses.

These immigration raids are destroying lives. After years of decline, ICE’s arrests of people living within our borders were up 40% under President Trump. Earlier this week, more than 150 people were arrested at work when agents raided a tractor manufacturer, guns drawn, from “every corner.” Latinos who were born along the border are having their passports revoked, likely the first step in a deportation ramp-up.

Photos by Jackie Fielder and Marcos Ramirez

Tech workers are organizing already. Employees of Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce have written petitions and rallied against their companies’ support for ICE, urging executives to cut ties. Others are using the hashtag #TechWontBuildIt to reject jobs at companies with connections to ICE, taking aim at tech’s recruiting pipeline.

This is not enough. We need every tech worker across the country to say “not in my name” and condemn the actions of companies who enable Trump’s deportation machine.

At Burning Man, tech workers feel free — to be who they are, to make art, to take drugs and dance and generally revel.

Nothing like that sanctuary exists for immigrants in this country now. Our community are fearful to attend birthday parties with family and friends. Tech workers must be reminded that every choice they make is a political choice. There is no neutral in times of rising authoritarianism.

Marisa Franco is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a co-founder of Mijente, a national Latinx organizing and movement building network. Follow her : @marisa_franco


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