“If comprehensive immigration reform is passed, will we be ready to meet the increased demand for legal services? ”

Leveraging Tech for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - By Manuel J. Santamaria

Wiki for Idea Jam and Design Sprint - http://wiki.immigrantintegrationsv.org/

Immigration reform is one of the hottest topics on the national political stage in 2013, with a bipartisan proposal set to be debated in Congress before its summer recess. The issue has raised immense attention across the nation and here in Silicon Valley because of its reach – millions nationally and hundreds of thousands locally will be affected by what comes from it. This is because immigration reform is aimed at improving the process for how we allow  individuals come into the country, and ways we can lift those without authorization and proper documentation from the shadows and onto a path to citizenship.

While lawmakers and the country delve deeper into discussions about how to fix our immigration system in a comprehensive way, the community foundation is continuing to act, organizing events to address two critical questions: If comprehensive immigration reform is passed, will we be ready to meet the increased demand for legal services? And which technological tools can help us be ready?

To address these questions, SVCF recently held two events at our Mountain View office an “IdeaJam” on Feb. 19 and a “Design Sprint” on Apr. 1, 2013. 

The IdeaJam brought together legal service providers, philanthropists and technology experts to uncover the challenges and barriers to providing better and more efficient legal services to immigrants in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The key themes and issues identified were the following:

•    expanding access for immigrants to financial assistance to help offset the high costs of visa applications, 
•    improving collaboration among legal service providers, 
•    developing self-service tools to help immigrants navigate more basic aspects of the naturalization process,
•    creating client intake processes that improve how legal service providers prioritize case loads,
•    improving translation and language access for individuals with limited English proficiency, and
•    ensuring information reaching the general public and clients is correct, clear and up-to-date

The Design Sprint focused on synthesizing and refining the key themes/issue areas identified during the IdeaJam. At the end of this highly productive session, eight promising tools emerged for improving legal services for immigrants using technological tools. SVCF will continue to refine and test theses tools during the next six months. We hope to support one or two of these concepts with seed funding.

By creating the space to think about, prepare and design possible technology solutions to improve legal services, SVCF is learning what are the best tools to simplify and scale important services and critical information, immigrants and immigration legal service providers need toaccess and provide critical services and information. This way we can help people on a large scale answer some of the most common, but critical questions more easily – What’s the correct visa to apply for? What are the application dates? Am I providing the proper forms? How long will I need to wait for an answer? What about my relatives? – and enable legal services providers help more clients.

The community foundation is proud of this forward-looking work, which builds on five years of major philanthropic investment and technology development in the immigration legal services field. That includes the development of the award-winning web platform CitizenshipWorks (www.citizenshipworks.org), seed funding for Citizenship Lending Circles through the Mission Asset Fund and, in partnership with Voto Latino, the creation of a mobile device voter registration application (available through the iTunes and GooglePlay stores).  

As a nation of immigrants, the United States owes its political, economic and cultural strength to the contributions of people from many different countries. California is home to 10.2 million immigrants, and has close to one-third of all citizenship-eligible immigrants in the U.S. With the IdeaJam, Design Sprint and our other ongoing efforts, SVCF is working to make integration and citizenship easier for tens of thousands of immigrants. 

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Manuel J. Santamaria is Silicon Valley Community Foundation's grantmaking director. He is responsible for managing the grantmaking department’s operations. He also leads the Immigrant Integration strategy, which focuses on the ability to build integrated communities that honor our shared values of family, hard work and opportunity for all. He can be reached at MJSantamaria@siliconvalleycf.org