Schools like the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford in the Bay Area are major feeders for local tech companies — but some campus groups are wary when companies that contract with federal immigration agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) come to campus.
Ten Stanford students with a group called Students for the Liberation of All People (SLAP) protested a guest lecture by Salesforce executive Richard Socher on Tuesday. The students, who held signs — “Salesforcing families apart,” “Richard are you getting rich from deportation?” and “Salesfart” — oppose the company’s contract with CBP.
This small group of students is a part of a bigger movement that includes pro-immigrant activist groups like Mijente, which have confronted Salesforce over its contract with the government, and hundreds of the company’s employees, who signed a petition asking CEO Marc Benioff to cancel it. But Salesforce has defended its work with the immigration agency, saying the technology it provides to the agency is not involved in the separation of immigrant families at the US border.
According to the Stanford Daily, Socher answered questions from the students Tuesday before they exited chanting, “Cancel the contracts! Stop funding deportations!”
Earlier this year, SLAP circulated flyers to fellow Stanford students at a Computer Forum career fair, encouraging them to “say no to designing tools that increase deportations, imprisonment & family separation” and “refuse to be a part of the Stanford –> racist tech pipeline.”
Campus police removed the students from the career fair. “The protesting students at the career event in January were disruptive and asked by police to leave, in accordance with Stanford’s long-standing policy on campus disruption,” a spokesperson said. Stanford declined to comment on the action at Tuesday’s guest lecture.
Regarding that event, a spokesperson for Salesforce said, “We respect the right to peaceful protest and have always welcomed a multi-stakeholder dialogue that includes our employees, customers, partners and communities.”
Tech companies pay fees to institutions like Stanford in order to get access to students, campus resources, and recruiting opportunities. At Berkeley, the Corporate Access Program has 46 members, including including Uber, Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Palantir. After Palantir held a scavenger hunt on campus last week, a recent graduate raised concerns to faculty and students of Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) division via an email reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
“Berkeley is the home to many undocumented students who are an active target of these technologies and agencies. I would not be surprised if the idea that the EECS department is ‘hosting’ Palantir is experienced as highly uncomfortable and unsafe,” the email read. “Do we really want companies that are complicit in severe human right violations and that are building the technology for a mass surveillance state to have access to our talent pool? We are setting our students up to help build the profiling systems that are used to go after undocumented workers.”
A spokesperson for Berkeley said the email has so far received a minimal response, and that the scavenger hunt was part of a “broader effort to engage with companies who want to recruit our students.”
“Palantir is one of 46 companies that have joined the EECS Corporate Access Program, which provides our students with in-person, direct engagement with recruiters and engineers from a wide variety of companies,” a department spokesperson said via email. “We do not restrict which companies may participate in the program.”
Palantir declined to comment on this story.
Recruiters for tech companies have increasingly fielded ethical concerns from tech talent they’re trying to recruit. Would-be employees who disagree with a company’s practices, projects, or contracts have been using cold emails from recruiters as an opportunity to share their opinions and to leverage their power. Palantir in particular has struggled to convince some potential recruits because of concerns about how authorities might use its products, a recruiter told Bloomberg.
While the total number of students and workers actively boycotting tech recruitment is small, the strategy puts real pressure on companies who are all competing over the same labor pool, said the AI Now Institute’s Meredith Whittaker. “Starving these companies of valuable highly trained talent helps,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Labor pressure from the inside also helps.”