Tech companies may not be able to fix the nation's broken immigration system. But as political wrangling over what a comprehensive immigration reform bill ought to look like - or even if a big one like the Senate's ought to be considered at all - continues to drag on, some of them are bringing out products which might make things easier for immigrants who try to navigate it. One of them, Clearpath, is angling to be the "Turbotax of immigration". The brainchild of former director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Michael Petrucelli, Clearpath offers online services which streamlines visa and naturalization application processes for immigrants - and lets them know if they're better off not applying at all.
"What he was trying to accomplish," Felice Gorordo, vice president of development and recent White House Fellow for Latino outreach and immigration policy, told the Latin Times, "was designing a system not so much from a legal perspective, but rather from an adjudicator's perspective - the people who are actually adjudicating cases as they come in from USCIS."
The point, he adds, is to help immigrants avoid the common mistakes which can see their applications rejected and their cases sent to the back of a line which for some people can be decades long. Sometimes those mistakes are quite simple, like making sure an applicant checks all the necessary boxes and puts certain sections of paperwork in all caps. The software already has the necessary formatting built into the program; users just see an interface with questionnaire-style questions.
But Clearpath also streamlines the process through widgets which let immigrants know, as they go along, what other documents or information they'll need to provide farther down the line. And if a user isn't eligible, the software can determine that before they complete and submit everything, and directs them to reliable legal counsel about what to do from there - all of that free of charge, as users only see fees for the service if they actually submit their paperwork to USCIS. Costs range from $5 (for electronic notification of an application's acceptance or rejection) to $200 (for help with US citizenship).
Petrucelli, who served as the USCIS director from 2003-2005, has voiced his support in the past for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. In a January op-ed, he wrote that "constructive solutions for legalizing the undocumented should be careful to leave out punitive elements such as overly large fines, bans on an eventual path to naturalization, or efforts at altering the current doctrine regarding citizenship at birth in the US", and emphasized the importance of new technologies in immigration processing.
Gorordo says if such a reform does pass, any new paperwork will probably look a lot like that of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama administration program extending a two-year reprieve from deportation proceedings and work authorization to many young undocumented immigrants. DACA was based on an existing paperwork model which, because of the company's inside knowledge of USCIS, it was able to use to respond to quickly when DACA first came out last August.
"Whatever reform looks like, it'll probably be based on the process for DACA. We'll be ready and able on day one because we've got the rules-based engine."
The service is available in English and Spanish, and in coming weeks, the company will bring out its Portuguese- and Korean-language software as well.