GitHub has no plans to review its decision to continue providing products to controversial US government agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), despite a growing backlash from employees over the deal including employees leaving in protest.

The open source management company says canceling or modifying the contract won’t “effect any change” and that it will instead lobby for change through policy makers.

Five GitHub employees have resigned in protest over the ongoing ICE contract, according to Vice, and the company’s annual developer event in San Francisco last week included public protests and several speakers pulling out.

At the event, GitHub Chief Operating Officer Erica Brescia told Which-50, the company would not be reconsidering its stance on the ICE contract and would take the same “principle-based” approach to all of its contracts in the future.

“We respect everybody’s right to an opinion on this and anything else, and we understand that not everybody might agree with the approach that we’re taking,” Brescia said.

“We respect that and we understand, but it’s not going to change our course.”

GitHub Chief Operating Officer, Erica Brescia, presents at GitHub Universe in San Francisco. Image: Joseph Brookes.

Brescia and her fellow leadership team plan to renew the company’s contract with ICE despite public outcry about the agency’s heavy-handed enforcement of immigration policies under the Trump administration. According to television network NBC, 24 immigrants have died in ICE custody during the Trump administration.

GitHub employees have railed against the decision, sending an open letter to senior management which said the contract made GitHub “complicit in [ICE’s] widespread human rights abuses”.

The week’s GitHub developer conference was marked by further public demonstrations, and international speakers also backed out in protest.

During the conference GitHub CEO Nat Friedman told press the company had received advice from immigrant advocates that reducing ICE’s technology capabilities by not continuing the contract could lead to worse outcomes for immigrants.

Friedman has described the contract — worth $US200,000 — as “not financially material for our company”. He also announced that GitHub will donate $US500,000 to immigrant charities.

Brescia explained GitHub’s rationale for continuing the contract despite her and her senior colleagues’ own disapproval of some of ICE’s tactics.

“We live in a democratic society. These are policies that were set by our government,” Brescia said.

“There are people interacting with those, acting on those policies. I personally and I know the leadership team in the company absolutely does not agree with a lot of the tactics that ICE is using.

“But we think that in a democratic society the best way to effect change is through the democratic process … Trying to do something with the licence and either refusing to renew or trying to find a way to recapture it isn’t actually going to effect any change.”

Rather than review the ICE contract, Brescia said GitHub will continue to advocate to policy makers, pursue philanthropic efforts, and when necessary use litigation.

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