Jewish protesters from several groups rallied outside Palantir’s offices in Palo Alto and New York on Friday to get the tech company to stop collaborating with ICE, as a key contract date approaches.
The protesters were affiliated with a handful of organizations, including Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps Bay Area, the grassroots Latinx group Mijente, and Never Again Action, a left-leaning Jewish group that made headlines after its members were arrested while protesting outside immigrant detention facilities across the country.
Their primary goal: to make Palantir pull out of its $49 million contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement before it goes into effect on Sept. 20. Palantir has provided the software behind ICE’s Investigative Case Management System, which the agency has used to plan and carry out raids and deportations, since 2014, and its current contract is set to expire on September 25.
Protesters compared the Trump administration’s immigration policy — particularly the 2018 “zero-tolerance” policy that caused the family separation crisis, the long-term detention of children and families in Border Patrol stations, and the arrests of immigrants in the interior of the country — to the anti-Semitic policies that led to the Holocaust. And they see Palantir as aiding and abetting.
“We refuse to be like the neighbors who stood by while our ancestors were detained and deported,” one protester called out to a crowd assembled a block away from Palantir’s Manhattan office. “We refuse to stand by and see what new terror the administration will roll out with the help of its corporate partners.”
The Friday protests were just the latest in a sustained effort targeting the Peter Thiel-founded tech firm.
“Mijente has been trying to get Palantir to drop its contracts with ICE for over a year now,” Priscilla Gonzalez, a campaign director with Mijente, told VICE News. “Momentum has been building, particularly as the conditions that migrants face along the southern border and within the interior have worsened.”
At Palantir’s New York City office, the protesters tried to deliver a petition — which they said had more than 140,000 signatures — urging the company to stop collaborating with ICE, but they were twice denied entry.
“What are you afraid of?” one organizer shouted at the closed door. “It’s just paper!”
Palantir has increasingly come under fire for its contracts with federal immigration agencies. ICE has paid Palantir more than $150 million to design and run its case management system and its FALCON analytical platform, which has been used to coordinate immigration raids across the country. The case management system also tracks license plates and lets law enforcement agencies monitor people’s social media activity, text messages, and call logs.
“This is part of a bigger, ongoing campaign exposing the connection between tech and ICE,” Audrey Sasson, the executive director of Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, told VICE News. “A few weeks ago, we occupied the Amazon bookstore and we shut it down for two hours on a Jewish holiday of mourning. We used that day of mourning to expose the relationship between Amazon and ICE.”
Even Palantir’s own employees have begun speaking out against the work the company does with ICE. In 2018, several employees confronted CEO Alex Karp over Palantir’s ICE contracts. And in August, more than 60 workers signed a petition asking management to funnel the profits from its ICE contracts to a nonprofit organization, the Washington Post reported.
But Karp didn’t budge.
“[U]nder scrutiny from employees and activists, they are being pressured to avoid controversy by picking and choosing which contracts to accept and which to abandon,” he wrote in a September Washington Post op-ed. “Giving in to this pressure will have the perverse effect of undermining the democratic principles that Silicon Valley leaders and activists pressuring them profess to support.”
Karp suggested that backing out of the contracts would take “the power to decide these issues away from elected officials and judges” and put it in the hands of companies like Palantir.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Audrey Sasson's name. It has been corrected.
Cover: Protesters gathered outside Palantir's New York City office Sept. 13, 2019, compared the tech company's contracts with ICE to IBM's collaboration with Nazi Germany. (Gaby Del Valle for VICE News)