Microsoft CEO calls border policy affecting migrant children 'cruel and abusive'

Microsoft this week found itself in the middle of the controversy surrounding the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy responsible for separating children from migrant families caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The crux of the issue lies in a January blog post that highlighted Microsoft's work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which caused an uproar on social media, eventually leading the company to issue a statement in which it said it was "dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border."

But as the spotlight continues to grow, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has decided to speak out on the issue in a letter sent to employees. In the letter, which Nadella later posted on LinkedIn in its entirety, the Microsoft executive cites his personal experience as an immigrant while calling the current policy "cruel and abusive."

Nadella also downplayed Microsoft's involvement with ICE, emphasizing that it is "not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border." Rather, Microsoft's work with ICE is limited to providing support for legacy mail, calendar, messaging, and document management.

From Nadella:

Microsoft has a long history of taking a principled approach to how we live up to our mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more with technology platforms and tools, while also standing up for our enduring values and ethics. Any engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles. We will continue to have this dialogue both within our company and with our stakeholders outside.

In a separate post at Microsoft's On the Issues blog, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Office Brad Smith highlighted the need for congress to act in an effort to eliminate the current policy of separating children from their families, which was put into place in April. From Smith:

There's been a lot of political rhetoric this week about who is responsible for this separation of kids from their families. But there is one thing that no one can dispute: something changed in April. And it wasn't the discovery of some new legal scroll that suddenly said the law should be interpreted in a different way. Instead it was a departure from the practice of prior administrations and a new surge in the separation of children from their families. As individuals and groups across the country have spoken up to recognize, this practice violates the fundamental humanitarian principles that define us as a people. It needs to end. And if the administration will not end this on its own, Congress needs to do so.

Smith also brought attention to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), which Microsoft co-founded in 2008 and with which Smith has been personally involved. The initiative provides free legal support for unaccompanied children and is particularly focused on assisting those who are fleeing from dangerous situations and conflict in their home countries.

Both Smith's and Nadella's comments come as Microsoft is facing increasing pressure not only from the public but its own employees to end its work with ICE. In an open letter reported by The New York Times, more than 100 Microsoft employees protested the work, stating in part: "We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits." From the letter:

We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE. As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.

You can read the full contents of Nadella's letter to Microsoft employees below:

Team,

Like many of you, I am appalled at the abhorrent policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the southern border of the U.S. As both a parent and an immigrant, this issue touches me personally.

I consider myself a product of two amazing and uniquely American things — American technology reaching me where I was growing up that allowed me to dream the dream and an enlightened immigration policy that then allowed me to live that dream. My story would not have been possible anywhere else.

This new policy implemented on the border is simply cruel and abusive, and we are standing for change. Today Brad detailed our company's position on this issue, as well as the immigration legislation currently being considered in Congress, and I encourage you to read his blog post.

I want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border. Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.

Microsoft has a long history of taking a principled approach to how we live up to our mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more with technology platforms and tools, while also standing up for our enduring values and ethics. Any engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles. We will continue to have this dialogue both within our company and with our stakeholders outside.

The immigration policy of this country is one of our greatest competitive advantages, and this is something we must preserve and promote. America is a nation of immigrants, and we're able to attract people from around the world to contribute to our economy, our communities and our companies. We are also a beacon of hope for those who need it the most. This is what makes America stronger. We will always stand for immigration policies that preserve every person's dignity and human rights. That means standing with every immigrant who works at Microsoft and standing for change in the inhumane treatment of children at the U.S. border today.

Satya

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