ICE’s $100M cloud deal could renew pressure on AWS, Microsoft over human rights abuses
Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are expected to be part of a more than $100 million cloud deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite more than two years of protests over their involvement with the agency responsible for separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
ICE announced its intent to issue a solicitation on Jan. 12, 2021, for cloud infrastructure hosting in AWS and Microsoft Azure environments.
Whether the contract meets resistance remains to be seen, given both companies’ histories of protests over their work with ICE and the likelihood the agency sees reforms under President-elect Joe Biden.
Neither ICE nor Amazon had responded to requests for comment on the likelihood the contract is executed by the time of publication. Microsoft declined to comment.
The nearly five-year contract is intended to be awarded in the third quarter of 2021 to a vendor responsible for providing access to both companies’ marketplace products and infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service offerings in the ICE cloud — so long as they comply with the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Continuing to host existing ICE systems in the AWS and Microsoft Azure clouds will also be part of the deal.
In June 2018, Amazon employees began pressuring CEO Jeff Bezos to end partnerships with companies that work with ICE — namely Palantir, whose Investigative Case Management system is critical to deportation operations and happens to run on the AWS cloud. Meanwhile, Microsoft was telling its own workers its $20 million contract with ICE wasn’t connected to children being separated from their parents at the border.
At least seven children died in immigration custody between 2018 and May 2019, as well as 33 adults in ICE custody between April 2018 and August 2020, according to the agency’s reporting. Migrants have been kept in chain-link enclosures decried as cages.
Amazon employees sent an internal email protesting the company’s continued work with Palantir in July 2019, after which companies like Chef stopped renewing contracts with ICE and Customs and Border Protection. Former Chef employee Seth Vargo had removed some of his code from the Microsoft-owned code-sharing site GitHub in protest, causing outages.
Microsoft employees followed up in October 2019 with an open letter posted to GitHub asking their employer to drop its more than $8 million in contracts with ICE, arguing its dealings made the company complicit by making the agency “more capable of committing widespread human rights abuses.”
Such abuses continue to come to light.
The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found in a November 2019 report that CBP knowingly lacked the IT systems capable of tracking separated migrant families, when it implemented a zero-tolerance policy for immigrants illegally entering the country.
Earlier this month BBC News reported as many as 666 children have yet to be reunited with their parents, and NBC News reported the White House blocked a Justice Department effort in October 2019 to pay for mental health services for separated families.
The new revelations haven’t been addressed by either Amazon or Microsoft.