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By Sara Castellanos
NEW YORK -- Protesters disrupted an Amazon.com Inc. event Thursday, voicing opposition to the company's ties to entities that enforce the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.
Groups of demonstrators rallied outside the Amazon Web Services Summit at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a free event open to the public. Inside, dozens of protesters in the audience interrupted a keynote speech by Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels five times before they were guided out.
Amazon and Mr. Vogels declined to comment on the protests.
Other companies that have been the target of protests due to their links to immigration enforcement include Microsoft Corp. and Wayfair Inc.
Last year, some Amazon employees called on corporate leaders to end partnerships with companies that work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
When asked last month whether Amazon's cloud division works with ICE, Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Andy Jassy said the company doesn't disclose the identities of customers who don't give it permission to do so. "We will serve the federal government, and they're going to have to use the technology responsibly," he said in an interview with journalist Kara Swisher at a Recode conference.
Social and political issues are becoming more important for technology companies, shaping perceptions of reputation and brand.
"Large tech companies play a vital role in our modern economy and as such cannot avoid being entangled in important social issues, which often have no easy answer," said Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist.
The protesters at the Amazon event cited media reports that Amazon Web Services provides the underlying technology and infrastructure for several companies that work with ICE. The agency is expected to round up thousands of undocumented migrants across the country starting on Sunday, according to administration officials.
Amazon leaders are "choosing to be complicit" in the detention, deportation and deaths of immigrants, including children, said Angeles Solis, lead organizer of Make the Road New York, one of the groups that organized the protest.
"Amazon needs to recognize and see the harm they're perpetuating," Ms. Solis said, adding that hundreds of protesters attended the event. The New York Police Department said it doesn't provide crowd estimates.
The protesters who disrupted Mr. Vogels's two-hour speech about cloud computing played audio excerpts of children being separated from their parents at a border patrol facility, obtained by ProPublica last year. Mr. Vogels stopped his presentation for several seconds as protesters yelled chants such as "cut ties with ICE."
"I'm more than willing to have a conversation but maybe you should let me finish first," Mr. Vogels said at one point.
While companies have the right to make business decisions, consumers, employees and shareholders have the right to protest those decisions, said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank whose board includes Amazon officials and other tech industry leaders.
"But it would be unfortunate if doing business with the U.S. government becomes so polarizing that America's best tech companies are forced to the sidelines," Mr. Castro said.
--Angus Loten contributed to this article.
Write to Sara Castellanos at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 11, 2019 18:22 ET (22:22 GMT)
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