Seattle tech firm to end ICE contracts after developer deletes code in protest

Last month, Seattle software company Chef announced that it will not renew its contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection because of the government’s policies toward family separation and detention.

The announcement came after an ex-employee Seth Vargo deleted code he wrote for the company in protest of family separations and detentions. Chef helps organizations manage their technical infrastructure. While some customers were affected, the company restored functionality by replacing Vargo’s code with older versions.

The initial response from Chef Chief Executive Officer Barry Crist was that the company would continue to work with government contracts regardless of individual agency policies to maintain a “consistent and fair business approach.”

But a few days later, Crist announced the change.

“I had hoped that traditional political checks and balances would provide remedy and that our relationship with our various government customers could avoid getting intermingled with these policies.  However, it is clear that checks and balances have not provided relief to the fundamental issues of the policies in question,” Chef CEO Barry Crist wrote in a Sept. 23 blog post. “Chef, as well as other companies, can take stronger positions against these policies that violate basic human rights.  Over the past year, many of our employees have constructively advocated for a change in our position, and I want to thank them.”

Vargo told Vice’s Motherboard that he deleted his code after he discovered that ICE was using it.

“I was having trouble sleeping at night knowing that software—code that I personally authored—was being sold to and used by such a vile organization,” he told Motherboard. “I could not be complicit in enabling what I consider to be acts of evil and violations of our most basic human rights.”

Crist said the company would honor its current contracts, but not renew them next year. The company also will expand its ethics policy.

“We have also decided that we will donate an amount equivalent to our 2019 revenues from these two contracts directed to charities that help vulnerable people impacted by the policy of family separation and detention.  We’ll create a team to lead the direction of these funds,” he wrote.

Bloomberg News reported that Chef could be one of the first companies to publicly announce cutting ties with federal immigration authorities in response to employee and activist protests of federal immigration policies.

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