GitHub CEO Nat Friedman told employees this week that the company’s decision to continue to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was made in an effort to align with Microsoft’s policies. Friedman’s comments were made at an all-hands meeting with GitHub employees, a transcript of which was obtained by Motherboard.
The meeting comes after GitHub faced backlash with a recent decision to renew a $200,000 contract with ICE earlier this week.
In response to a question about whether GitHub has the “autonomy to make this decision independent of Microsoft,” Friedman responded:
That’s a good question. It would have been very challenging for us to take a position on this [that’s] very different from Microsoft’s position, I would say, because the government customers and the policymakers see us as a single company. And so while I think there are a lot of areas where we have a lot of autonomy, this is an area where we would probably prefer to be synchronized more with Microsoft on this.
Friedman continued, saying the decision was the result of a conversation with Microsoft. “It’s not a matter of taking orders purely, but it was a conversation with folks at Microsoft. So I’d say it’s an area of interdependence at least. I hope that’s clear enough.”
ICE and the Trump administration have come under fire over the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Microsoft last year faced criticism for its decision to continue to work with ICE, despite its stated support for family unification.
Speaking with Motherboard, a GitHub employee stated that the company’s work with ICE has been a point of concern since 2017.
“People wanted the contract cancelled basically as soon as early 2017, as soon as the travel ban came up,” the employee stated. “The calls to cancel got a lot louder as soon as the Microsoft acquisition was announced.”
The contract, which provides for a GitHub Enterprise Server, was initiated in 2016.
GitHub employees have spoken out through an open letter issued through an anonymous Twitter account called GitHubbers.
“We implore GitHub to immediately cancel its contract with ICE, no matter the cost. Now is the time to take a stand, or be complicit,” the letter states after calling attention to issues of “overcrowding, sexual abuse, and inadequate food and medical care” faced by thousands of immigrants detained at the border.
In an email to employees announcing the contract’s extension earlier this week, Friedman called the contract “not financially material.” The CEO added that GitHub will donate $500,000 to “nonprofit organizations working to support immigrant communities targeted by the current administration.”