The current “zero-tolerance” U.S. immigration policy has become one of the most high-profile and contentious human rights issues we face. The Trump Administration’s more aggressive approach to immigration restrictions pushed arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) up by 11 percent in 2018. The resulting indefinite detention, especially the separation of minor immigrant children from their parents, has violated human and civil rights.
During the 2019 proxy season, ICCR members are engaging companies to hold different sectors accountable for human rights problems they may be causing directly, or those to which they may be linked through federal government contracts with ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Any company connected to immigration enforcement faces a panoply of risks—violations of human rights, including children’s rights, due process, equal protection, freedom from persecution and torture, and the rights of asylum seekers. These are significant legal and reputational risks that threaten brands and may cause workplace unrest when employees strongly oppose these practices.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) articulate a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and provide victims a remedy for any corporate-related abuses. Problems connected to “zero tolerance” immigration fall under the UNGPs and require increased due diligence.
For-profit private prisons that detain immigrants, including families with children, present the most direct human rights challenge. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General in October 2018 reported “serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care” at a GEO immigration detention center in Adelanto, California, for instance, prompting one of this year’s shareholder proposals.
Technology companies with federal immigration agency contracts provide a range of hardware and other infrastructure services connected to UNGP-defined risks, through cloud services, biometric and facial recognition technology, recruitment, case management and network operations management. A resolution at Amazon.com asks the company to not to provide its facial recognition technology to government agencies unless it can ensure no civil and human rights violations will occur. ICCR members are holding dialogues with Microsoft and Accenture on similar themes.
Defense contractor Northrop Grumman has a $95 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Biometric Identity Management to develop technology for the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database. HART will amplify government surveillance, harming privacy and free speech rights. Additional concerns exist about algorithms that have inherent racial bias.
Financial institutions including Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are under fire for lending to private prison companies that contract with ICE and benefit from more aggressive immigration enforcement.
The Investor Alliance for Human Rights, an ICCR initiative, published a Guidance on Corporate Human Rights Due Diligence Related to Immigration Detention and Family Separation that provides an overview of the human rights risks associated with family separation and indefinite immigrant detention and includes guidance to help companies identify, assess and address those risks.