It Takes a Village to Separate A Family

Jun 19, 2018 by Daniel Compton

Over the weekend I saw a new customer had signed up for a trial for Deps to store their source code dependencies. “Neat!” I thought. I went to send them a welcome email and checked out their company site.

This company is a Silicon Valley surveillance tech startup in the same vein as Palantir. They build software and hardware to help with border security in America. I was now faced with a decision on whether to serve them or not. As a small startup, getting new customers is always great, especially ones that are growing fast. But I felt uncomfortable providing services to this company.

During World War II, I.B.M. supported the Nazi’s in their war effort. They helped conduct a census to identify Jews and supported the administration of the concentration camps. In a review of a book about I.B.M. and the Holocaust, Richard Bernstein wrote:

Many American companies did what I.B.M. did. … What then makes I.B.M. different? [… the author] does not demonstrate that I.B.M. bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done.

Bernstein is correct that many American companies also supported the Nazi war effort. Rather than absolving them all of responsibility for their actions, I would argue that all were culpable for their part (large or small) in it. Because so many companies were complicit in supporting the Nazis, it meant that the light never shone on any one company too brightly. While Deps wouldn’t have directly contributed to the immigration policies being enforced, it still would have been a small contribution to what this company was building.

In the end, the decision was easy. I wrote a polite email thanking them for their interest but telling them that we couldn’t serve them, due to their work.

Today (as in the 1930’s), many companies are supporting the Trump administration, ICE, and various private industrial surveillance companies. Because so many businesses are supporting them, no one business comes under scrutiny.

Jeff Lawson (Twilio’s CEO) has a post talking about how Separating immigration families is a war crime. In the end he lists a number of things that people can do. Those are all good, and I would add one more. If your company serves one of the organisations implementing this immigration policy, consider if you want to continue serving them as a customer.

It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to separate them from their family.