Smartphone apps could help immigrants achieve citizenship

Latinos own smartphones and mobile devices and use social networking sites at similar -- and sometimes higher -- rates than other groups of Americans, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center. New phone apps aim to increase the chances of young immigrants staying in the United States and foster a sense of community.

By Catherine Brzycki -- Medill News Service

WASHINGTON -- Immigration politics have heated up again, with a push among advocates to get the bill passed by the end of the year, and for now undocumented immigrants have few options to gain legal status. But a new breed of phone applications aims to increase their chances of staying in the United States.

Pocket DACA is one of the apps, designed to help undocumented immigrants know whether they qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.


DACA allows certain people who came to the United States a “deferred action” period of two years in order to pursue education or military service in the United States. It’s subject to renewal, and those who qualify avoid deportation and get a work permit.

The normal process of applying for DACA involves paperwork, a lawyer and $465 application fee, which can be prohibitive to workers earning less than $10,000 a year. Pocket DACA brings information to those looking to qualify under DACA by offering pre-screening questions about age and residency, so they can see if they are likely to qualify.


Matthew Burnett, director of the Immigration Advocates Network in New York City, said the app increases the chances that DACA applicants will successfully navigate the process, and be able to stay in the country.

“Targeting millennials has been a successful strategy,” Burnett said. “It’s the right kind of platform to target this population. Internet and social media are essential. It’s where millennials live. It’s a natural place for them to make their voices heard.”

In addition to the pre-screening interview, Pocket DACA provides accurate information about DACA and access to legal services near the applicant’s home. In the two months since its inception the app has had over 20,000 downloads. Apps similar to this are a sign of the growing technological influence that gives greater autonomy to immigrants.

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“We’re seeing a proliferation of multimedia and the ability for folks to leverage free tools to have incredible impact on the national conversation,” Burnett said. “There’s a sense that I’m not alone and that plays into a powerful story about technology and immigration reform. ”

Patrick Tuarel, an immigration lawyer in Washington, believes that DACA helps alleviate the fear that deportation will result from providing personal information in the application.


“Immigration has been keeping to its promise of not deporting people who apply to this program” Tuarel said. “While we don’t have exact figures, but only a handful of people were sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.”

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Other helpful apps for immigrants include USCIS Immigration Test Prep, and CitizenhipWorks, an earlier app designed by Burnett and the Immigration Advocates Network.

Burnett said the impact of technology is growing and will continue to grow within the immigrant community. “It’s really a sea change and has helped this cause tremendously in gaining traction and making voices heard.”

Own the Dream, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council joined together with the Immigration Advocates Network to create Pocket DACA.

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