Tech innovation and infrastructure is a matter of civil society’s survival. In the immigration defense field, as our losses have become undeniable, at the border, in detention centers, and within our own ranks, themselves stricken with burn out and disassociative despair, we have to ask ourselves, why, when we have performed and worked at the absolute limits of human capacity and ingenuity for years, has DHS been able to out-maneuver us with relative ease at every turn?
The easy answer is that their digital and network capacity, fueled by money and political power.
Asking professional immigration advocates to become technology builders while they continue to see clients is as absurd as asking medical doctors to develop a social media app for patients while continuing to perform surgeries.
Yet, this is precisely what happens across the humanitarian space, whether the ask is to design tech, build tech, maintain tech. But it is also true that precious few stepping into the space with their hand raised ready to build it for the advocates, and every day that this lack of technological infrastructure build up continues the chasm between immigration advocates and forces antagonistic to their clients deepens.
This is part of larger phenomenon, centralized government power is racing ahead of power of civil society to maintain balance, as tech that strengthens the former continues to outpace that which strengthens the latter.
We need a completely new approach to funding, developing, and integrating tech into the immigration space and into civil- and humanitarian-spaces if we plan on ever winning any more battles for human dignity, life, and equality.
Asking Advocates to Be Innovators is a Mistake
I gave a presentation at the inaugural, and so far very successful and interesting Southeastern Immigration Studies Association Conference, and the focus was on what it takes and will continue to take to build immigration tech tools.
When I applied for the conference in early November 2019, the context I had in the back of my mind for this presentation was very different than the context of immigration advocacy in 2022.
In November 2019 I was still under the impression that there would be a day when an administration would come back to the White House and understand that the only way to deal with immigration realities at the border was to develop better information and case tracking across the government and private-sector frontier. The sad reality of ongoing Title 42 enforcement is that our Congress and White House continue to be impossible politically beholden to notions of border policy that are out-of-step with the ability of current technologies to handle the crises.
Covid-19, on the other hand, while pushing some practitioners and organizations out of the space and pushing a few others towards a speed up in technology adoption, has also shown the continued impossibility of competing with a better funded, more technologically advanced, and politically-protected DHS apparatus. Things since the Trump administration have gotten worse for immigration advocates, not better.
If anything, immigration orgs are now worse-positioned to be immigration technology innovators than before, because their resources are fewer, and the program is even better.
What to Do?
As we see the rise of new AI miracles, like Dall-e, and the rest of the Open AI project, it is likely that we will start seeing some smart application of that open-AI technology to immigration processing. Perhaps AI will save the immigration advocacy space, providing it a set of tools that can catch up and outpace the build up of the Government’s own tools for immigration processing, allowing advocates to actually have a level playing field in immigration courts and other spaces of representation of immigrants.
But really, the thing that needs to happen is that advocacy groups and immigration practitioners should look to consolidate use of core technologies and create a common language to move forward the practice of massive collaborative representation.
How and whether that can happen are maybe articles I will explore later.