A dozen or so people accompanied by a 14-foot, 800-pound cage gathered in downtown San Francisco Tuesday morning to protest Salesforce’s contract with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.
Today is the first day of Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual user conference that attracts some 200,000 people. The protesters claim Salesforce, which signed an agreement with CPB in March, is complicit in the actions of CBP and should be held accountable.
“Salesforce has a moral and ethical obligation to end this contract,” one protestor shouted.
The sign plastered to the front of the cage — a mock-up of those reportedly used in CBP facilities to hold separated children of migrant families — read “Detention center powered by Salesforce.”
“It’s hard to miss an 800-pound cage rolling down the street,” Jelani Drew, lead organizer of the demonstration and campaigner for the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, told TechCrunch. “They had to look and that was the goal.”
Almost 1,800 families were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border from October 2016 through February of this year, per Reuters. And another 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 parents between May 5 and June 9, according to Vox.
In late June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end family separation, though the zero-tolerance policy, which mandates that any persons entering the U.S. illegally be prosecuted, remains.
Salesforce chief executive officer Marc Benioff, who has a reputation for advocating for liberal causes and politics, has said the deal with CBP does not involve CBP’s U.S.-Mexico border policies. CBP, rather, uses some Salesforce cloud tools, specifically Salesforce Analytics, Community Cloud and Service Cloud, to bolster its recruiting process and to “manage border activities.”
When asked for comment, Salesforce told TechCrunch the cloud-computing company respects the right to protest and pointed us in the direction of Benioff’s tweets, which reaffirm the business doesn’t have an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and that the CBP contract is unrelated to family separation.
That tweet, posted in July, was a response to a petition signed by 650 Salesforce employees, who took issue with the CBP contract, specifically CBP’s use of Salesforce Service Cloud to manage activities at the border.
“We cannot cede responsibility for the use of the technology we create–particularly when we have reason to believe that it is being used to aid practices so irreconcilable to our values,” the employees wrote. “Those values often feel abstract, and it is easier to uphold them when they are not being tested. They are being tested now.
In addition to his tweet, Benioff wrote in a memo to employees at the time that he is “opposed to separating children from their families at the border.”
“It is immoral. I have personally financially supported legal groups helping families at the border. I also wrote to the White House to encourage them to end this horrible situation.”
Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block said the company would donate $1 million to organizations helping families separated at the U.S. border and that Salesforce would match employee donations. In his tweet, he did not specify which organizations the company would support.
Today, Block similarly took to Twitter to announce that the nonprofit arm of Salesforce would donate $18 million to “Bay Area causes.” The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts will receive $15.5 million, Hamilton Families, Larkin Street Youth Services and the San Francisco Food Bank will receive $2 million and the San Francisco Park Alliance will receive $500,000.
Today’s protest was organized by Fight for the Future, Color of Change, Demand Progress, Defending Rights and Dissent, Mijente, Presente.org, RAICES and Sum of Us. RAICES, The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, recently rejected a $250,000 donation from Salesforce because of its contract with CBP.
Benioff contacted RAICES executive director Jonathan Ryan over the summer to discuss the opposition to Salesforce’s contract with CBP, according to a new report from The Guardian. The pair were scheduled to speak until Benioff canceled last minute. “I am sorry I’m scuba diving right now,” Benioff reportedly wrote to Ryan.
We’ve reached out to RAICES for comment.
Benioff and Salesforce are among several large tech companies that have struck controversial deals with government agencies. Employees at both Amazon and Microsoft have protested their companies’ contracts with ICE. Google reportedly decided not to renew a Pentagon contract after employees resigned in protest of the search giant’s involvement with controversial AI research project Project Maven.
Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign organizer with Mijente, a national hub for Latinx organizers, told TechCrunch the she and the other protesters are hopeful tech companies will drop their contracts with both CBP and ICE.
“We’ve been incredibly concerned with corporations, particularly the tech corporations, that are facilitating ICE and border patrol’s destruction of immigrant communities,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a matter of continuing to pressure these investors and executives at these tech companies that are making billions at the expense of immigrants. They are profiting off the suffering of immigrants.”