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Why the Amazon Pushback Is Also About Immigrants

After the HQ2 cancellation in Queens, Amazon’s connections to federal immigration enforcement are drawing scrutiny and criticism in other cities, too.
Long Island City, Queens, once slated to be the site of a new Amazon headquarters.
Long Island City, Queens, once slated to be the site of a new Amazon headquarters.Mark Lennihan/AP

When Amazon announced that it would be cancelling plans to build a headquarters in Long Island City last week, among the many groups claiming victory were immigration activists. For them, the fundamental problem with the Amazon deal wasn’t only about the questionable tax incentives or the threats of gentrification. It was also the company’s support of government agencies that round up and deport immigrants.

Amazon is among a few companies that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It has pitched both agencies on using its Rekognition facial recognition technology, which would help them identify suspected undocumented immigrants from afar. Privacy advocates have long worried about the biases coded into this technology, and the potential for mass surveillance should it be deployed by law enforcement agencies—especially ones that have already been accused of rights violations. The mega-retailer has also raised concerns because of its other connections to federal law enforcement: Amazon Web Services provides technical support to a number of Department of Homeland Security agencies, as well as the Pentagon.