American CEOs are beginning to speak out against separating families at the border

Detained children need more allies.
Detained children need more allies.
Image: Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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The US government and the general public are beginning to hear from corporate leaders about the shockingly cruel policy of separating families at the US-Mexico border.

As Quartz At Work noted yesterday, most CEOs have been strangely silent on the issue, even as wide swaths of Americans, including conservatives and religious leaders, have denounced the US government’s actions. 

But in the past 24 hours, a handful of business executives—primarily from the tech world—have come forward to condemn the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which sees children taken from their parents if the family arrived in the US without proper visas. 

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian took to Twitter and called a video from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “reprehensible.”

Jeff Lawson, CEO and cofounder of software maker Twilio, published a Medium post titled “Separating immigrant families isn’t just wrong, it’s a war crime.” Lawson is explicit; this is about bigotry, he wrote. The emphasis in the passage below is his:

Now perhaps the President’s personal experience leads him to assume that if a parent commits a crime, his children must be criminals too. But that’s not what’s driving these new policies. No, let’s call this what it is — bigotry, xenophobia, and now — war crimes perpetrated by Americans on American soil against Latin Americans. Agreed that what we have today is an unsustainable legal framework, and that needs to be fixed. But let’s be clear — this is not a war on immigration, this is a war on immigrants.

Also taking a stand on the matter: Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, and his co-founders, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk.

Today, Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, took advantage of his own platform to solicit ideas for what could be done to #KeepFamiliesTogether, the hashtag that is now trending on Twitter. (Quartz has compiled a list of actions you can take to push the government to change its policy.)

Dorsey has also tweeted a ProPublica story that features an audio recording that the news outlet says captures the sound of children crying and begging for their parents inside a protection facility.

Speaking in Dublin, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Irish Times that his company would be working with officials inside the US government to be a “constructive voice” on the crisis.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop,” he said.

Bastian Lehmann, founder and CEO of Postmates, a delivery company, joined the chorus on Tuesday, suggesting that the New York Times assist readers as they consider their voting options for the midterm elections by listing the Congressional representatives who have supported the “zero tolerance” policy. He also tweeted a link to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The situation has Amy Bohutinsky, COO of real estate giant Zillow, pondering her family’s fate had they faced the same circumstances:

Microsoft, meanwhile, was pressured to react to the crisis after a company blog post from January was circulated online. In it, Microsoft boasted of its contract work with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Several high-profile tech personalities called out Microsoft for partnering with ICE, including Erica Joy Baker, an engineer at Patreon and a human rights and diversity activist.

Microsoft yesterday issued a corporate statement saying it is “dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border.” The statement continued:

Family unification has been a fundamental tenant of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and COO Sheryl Sandberg donated to a fundraiser to help unite children and their families. Zuckerberg has not disclosed how much he personally donated, but he posted about the organizations he selected on Facebook today, and asked his 100 million followers to pitch in.

Many other executives, even those who have taken public stances on social issues in the past, are still missing from this movement of sorts. But if Twilio’s Lawson has his way, more executives will step forward to voice their dissent.

“As a tech leader and public CEO, I’m often advised to stay apolitical,” he wrote on Medium. “But this isn’t politics, I believe this is a matter of objective right and wrong. Staying silent doesn’t feel like leadership to me. I encourage other leaders to consider the cost of silence.”