At Amazon's Annual Summit, Hundreds Demand Tech Giant Stop Providing 'Invisible Backbone' to Trump's Anti-Immigration Agenda

July 13, 2019

 
Hundreds of immigrants and rights advocates demonstrated outside the Javits Center in New York while Amazon held its annual summit on Thursday, calling on the company to cut ties with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Outside the summit, the demonstrators placed photos of immigrants and asylum seekers who have died in U.S. custody and while trying to seek refuge in the U.S. under the Trump administration. (Photo: @MakeTheRoadNY/Twitter)

Hundreds of immigrants and rights advocates demonstrated outside the Javits Center in New York while Amazon held its annual summit on Thursday, calling on the company to cut ties with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Outside the summit, the demonstrators placed photos of immigrants and asylum seekers who have died in U.S. custody and while trying to seek refuge in the U.S. under the Trump administration. (Photo: @MakeTheRoadNY/Twitter)

By Julia Conley

Common Dreams

Both inside and outside the Amazon Web Services Summit in New York on Thursday, tech workers, immigrants, and rights advocates demanded that the company end its support of immigration enforcement agencies and what critics called President Donald Trump's "deportation machine."

As the tech giant held one of several conferences planned around Prime Day, its annual savings event, around 500 demonstrators rallied outside the Javits Center in New York while at least 30 attendees disrupted a keynote speech by Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels.

"Amazon, how much longer will you have blood on your hands?" asked one tech worker who stood up in the crowd as Vogels discussed innovation at the company.

Soon after, a group began chanting, "Cut ties with ICE!"

The demonstrators also played audio of crying children who had been detained by the Trump administration and were removed from the summit.

The workers and advocates attended the summit as part of a multi-pronged protest against Amazon's decision to provide data and cloud services to contractors working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The company also pitched the use of its Rekognition surveillance software to ICE, which would allow the agency to use facial recognition technology to identify people in surveillance footage.

"In a moment when the federal government is caging children in horrendous conditions, Amazon provides key technology and data infrastructure to fuel the Trump administration's deportation machine and bolstering the work of ICE," said Make the Road, an immigrant rights advocacy group whose New York and New Jersey chapters are leading Prime Day demonstrations along with New York Communities for Change and other allies.

Later, some of the immigrant rights advocates who had disrupted the conference spoke out at the demonstration, where attendees carried signs reading, "Close the Camps" and "No Tech for ICE."

"We know that Amazon is a key player in the system that is incarcerating, detaining, and deporting a lot of our communities and they're a key part in the monstrosity that we see with concentration camps," said Jennifer Hernandez, an organizer with Make the Road New York. "So we asked that Amazon cut all ties to ICE."

"We shouted to the clients in the room, we shouted to the workers that they have a choice about whether they remain complicit...in the deportation machine, whether they remain complicit with family separation and with concentration camps," added an organizer identified as Susannah.

Among the hundreds of people joining Make the Road New York were immigrant families who were separated and detained by ICE.

"I was detained by ICE," said Beyra Reyes, a New York Communities for Change member. "I know what it's like to be in a detention center and not be able to see my kids for months and to lose my job and apartment. Amazon must break all its ties with ICE and stop profiting off the pain of immigrants like me."

The demonstrators planned to form a human chain to represent the "invisible backbone" that Amazon has provided to President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies.

Prime Day takes place next Monday, and national advocacy groups are planning a number of actions around the event. As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Amazon workers in Minnesota are planning a walkout on Monday to protest poor labor conditions.

On Sunday, Make the Road New Jersey will lead another rally outside Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where earlier this month hundreds of Jewish Americans demanded that the closure of the facility and called on conservatives and centrists to stop resisting comparisons between Trump's immigrant detention centers and the concentration camps run by the Nazi regime in the 1940s. 

"On Prime Day, Amazon seeks to entice consumers with discounts," said Make the Road New York, "trying to foster a friendly image while concealing the damage the company is doing to communities."

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