GitHub’s role at the U.S Border

Nunny Reyes
5 min readSep 22, 2020

An Ethical Look at Tech — Vol. 1 #NoTechForICE

When Doctors begin their careers as medical practitioners, they take the Hippocratic Oath. We’d like to think that other professions lead with ethics and a “Do No Harm” policy.

Software Engineering in comparison is a relatively new field and evolving at an incredible speed. There is no oath for Software Engineers to write code for good. Its ethics are still developing.

Our roles as developers is to innovate and shape the future of society. But what happens when tech and the algorithms we create are used to harm?

This series will provide key information to those working in tech to rethink the critical role they play. In this first post, we will take a look at the role GitHub plays in Family Separation, #NoTechForICE, and how you as a developer are not separate from this crisis.

What is ICE?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was created in 2003 as a direct response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The government moved swiftly in creating organizations meant to surveil. Over the years, ICE has become a monolith of terror and is on par with being a terrorist organization which American taxpayers fund. It is the machine that arrests, detains, and separates children and families as they flee persecution from their country and seek a better life.

The Zero Tolerance Policy by Trump’s Administration has ramped up criminal prosecution. It has removed all due process and human rights through ICE protocol. Nearly 20 years later, the Trump Administration as of 9/20/2020 has proposed an expansion to collect data and biometric data on immigrants and their families, including U.S citizens. This database is simply impossible to power on its own and is dependent on the work tech companies provide through contracts.

Children held in ICE detention centers in the United States
Families held in detention centers at the U.S border by Immigration and Custom Enforcement

What is GitHub?

Microsoft and GitHub image are diplayed

More than 28 million developers learn, share and collaborate to create the future.

GitHub launched in 2008 as a distributed version control and code management. Fast forward to 2018, it was acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 billion. Over 28 million developers use the platform to create multiple stages of software development.

A gallery is to the artist as GitHub is to the working Software Engineer.

Everyday developer tools are also being used to fuel a human rights crisis. GitHub has a multimillion dollar contract with the United States to supply tech for ICE. Companies like GitHub are making millions of dollars selling software and data to ICE. Since 2010, Microsoft has made over $14.6 million from contracts.

With over 28 million developers, silence is being complicit.

Moral Obligation to Speak Out

Microsoft employees released this letter at the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 pandemic spread in the United States urging Microsoft to divest in technology that ICE uses to detain immigrants. Highly marginalized groups became more vulnerable since the start of the pandemic.

Microsoft Employee’s pen an open Letter to stop the use of tech by ICE

ICE’s horrendous behavior may seem like it’s out of our hands. But they’re using our company’s technology — the software that we’ve built — to do so. Because of this, we have an opportunity and an obligation to speak out.

In response to these events, Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for Latinx & Chicanx movement building, is calling for tech companies who supply ICE with their technical infrastructure halt their support for the agency at this time.

As Mijente notes in their petition, “Silicon Valley can take a stand. Stop working for ICE immediately.”

Various Microsoft Employees have resigned due to the lack of leadership at Microsoft to do what is morally right.

A few other companies that provide technology to ICE…

A June 2018 report by the Urban Justice Center

#NoTechForICE and where it stands in 2020

#NoTechForICE evolved as a grassroots movement to raise awareness to stand up against surveillance data being used without consent. What began as a “radical” thought has now led to multiple chapters of the organization be led across college campuses everywhere.

Various tech companies are leaving their Bay Area offices and are relocating due to increasing protests outside of their offices.

ACLU announced a week ago that Tech Companies must divest from providing tech that is infringing on Human Rights.

Tech is a high impact industry, every company created will be a software developing company at its core due to the nature of how we use tech in our everyday life.

The ethics of Software Engineering are still developing. There is individual power in steering it to create good.

Your voice matters. Your choice matters. Your morals matter.