On November 28, Cornell Law School held its inaugural Immigration Innovation Challenge, representing the culmination of students’ work this semester in the new Technology, Innovation, and the Law Clinic. “This clinic is a unique opportunity to combine law and technology,” says clinic director Stephen Yale-Loehr. “The students worked with nonprofits to build expert legal systems that promote access to the legal system for immigrants.”
The clinic’s nine students worked in teams of three to create and present applications. Evaluating the apps were judges Tom Bruce, co-founder and director of the Legal Information Institute (LII); Craig Newton, associate director for content at LII; Charles Whitehead, the Myron C. Tylor Alumni Professor of Business Law and director of the Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Program; and Kevin Mulcahy, vice president of Education and Community Programs at Neota Logic, Inc., which provided the software platform used by the students.
Taylor Davis, Michael Chou, and Mason Roth, in collaboration with Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, created an app for New Immigrants Community Empowerment (NICE), an organization that helps day-laborers find work in New York City. The day-laborers served by NICE can use the app on their cell phones to track and report information on payment and work environments, as well as to rate their employers.
The tool will enable NICE to amass data on wage theft and worksite conditions, helping the organization to steer its clients away from unethical employers. The records created by the app can also assist day-laborers during tax filing or when suing an employer for unpaid wages. A group of NICE clients tested the app during its development, and the students incorporated their feedback into the final project. As most of NICE’s clients speak Spanish as their first language, the students also worked with a translator to create a Spanish-language version of the app.
Radin Ahmadian, Pranoto Iskandar, and Stephanie Jurkowski worked with the Immigration Advocates Network to make a family and financial preparedness app for people facing the risk of deportation. An estimated eleven million immigrants are currently at risk of deportation from the United States.
The students focused on providing easily-digestible information customized to each user’s particular situation, creating an app that takes under five minutes to use. Recognizing that many of the app’s potential users would be wary about inputting sensitive information, the students also tailored the questions to maintain user anonymity.
Working with Sue Chaffee of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, James Redman, Jenna Scoville, and Francis Cullo tackled the daunting I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This complicated form is a green card application that a U.S. citizen or green-card holder submits on behalf of a close relative; between 250,000 and 300,000 I-130 petitions are filed every year. The students sought to streamline the process, guiding petitioners through the form’s questions with clear, simple language.
After completing a version of their app designed specifically for Chaffee and her clients, the team began designing a second version for the general public. Scoville noted, “As we got further into the project, we realized how particularly important [technology] is in the immigration context.”
The judges chose winners in three categories, announced by Mulcahy. Best User Interface was awarded to the Family Preparation team, whose application, Mulcahy observed, “looks like it was done by a design shop.” Best Leveraging of Technology was awarded to the I-130 team, in part for their initiative in designing a companion app for a wider audience. Best Overall went to the NICE team, “because it is nice,” said Mulcahy. “We know you had a lot of stakeholders to appease, and you did a great job.”
“I was impressed by the excellent and useful applications the students built in just one semester,” Yale-Loehr reflects, adding, “These applications will help thousands of immigrants immediately.”
The students’ final presentations were recorded and are available at http://bit.ly/2A6Uu57. The apps are at: