015: Text messaging to prevent deportation with United We Dream

using the Whole Whale PodcastUnited We Dream works for the 11+ million undocumented immigrants in the US and they are using text messaging to help do this. We talk with Adrian, the data and technology manager about how they are using text alerts and communication to help immigrants keep up with the requirements/deadlines of the US Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)


Musical Thanks to…

Baifan, a Brooklyn based band, whose bass guitarist is Whole Whales’ Front-End Whaler, Simon Glenn-Gregg.


Episode 15

Speaker 1: This is Using the whole whale, a podcast that brings you stories of data and technology in the non-profit world. This is George Weiner, your host and the chief whaler at WholeWhale.com. Thank you for joining us.

So I am going to start off this week’s podcast with a somewhat struggling stat. There are over a 11 million undocumented people in the United States. Now as you can imagine, if you are undocumented in US there are any number of basic human rights that you simply don’t have access to. What’s more, reaching this population is pretty difficult. Because as you can imagine if you are undocumented in U.S, you don’t necessarily want to be given you know. Twitter handle left and right trying to build followers and reputation.

Welcome to Episode 15. We are talking with United We Dream that’s working on this kind of exact project to reach this population and help them register for the services that they are due qualified for. We are talking with Adrian the data and technology manager, United We Dream. And they are doing something very interesting by doing text messaging to help this population and reach this population to get access to the services they need and that they qualify for. Welcome to the show. All right, we are here with United We Dream and I am talking with Adrian. Can you tell us who you are and what you do.

Speaker 2: My name is Adrian and I am the data and technology manager for United We Dream.

Speaker 1: Awesome. And this is a wonderful organization. Can you tell us what United we Dream is trying to do?

Speaker 2: sure. United We Dream is the first and largest immigrant network in U.S with 25 state representatives with 52 billion across the country. And our main mission is to advocate for the rights of immigrant youth and their families. Right in many ways that we do that is advocating for access to education at the state level advocating for the pathway specific shared by the relief for families on document issues. And fighting deportation of many of our community members.

Speaker 1: Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved in what decision matters to you?

Speaker 2: Sure. For me in early 2009, when I went to college. I think it was the moment for me. I grew up in Texas which had this situation for quite a while again the situation is just the cause the original documented students can attend. In public universities as i speak usually the situation is only granted to U.S citizens but may be not granted to those undocumented irrespective of how long you lived in the state. Texas was the first one to grant that . For me it’s getting into college and having that access what you so badly realized in that hey i am not eligible to go for work. pretty much no kind of scholarship was really available to me. And that’s when it really hit me that i needed to do something about it.

Speaker 1: That’s it. so how many it was little over a 11 million undocumented people in the United States. What is it from the technology standpoint what the heck does technology have to do with immigration rights. How do you approach that as far as how you measure it and what you are looking to do

Speaker 2: I think one of the most important thing to know is that just that the point where technology is right here. we are so interconnected right. Undocumented community is undoubtedly a pretty transient community moving around so much. so there are many factors while applying to it. Further staying in communication with our constituency in our way is one of the factors that we have to be thinking about. The only thing that we need to think about right is to really ensure that as we are fighting for access to all sorts of things like access to education, access to work permits through programs like this. deferred action for child rights that were not there in 2012. You have to make sure that the principal we are serving we know sort of where they are have and what are the things that we need to gain contribution to help and these are the two most critical points when we think about when we think of getting social justice our work, our technology and data bringing us together.

Speaker 1: One of the ways I think you guys would be most helpful is the use of SMS, right, text messaging. so can you tell me and describe to me about how you are using text messaging to reach this population.

Speaker 2: Also we are reaching out to a lot of the network services have pretty doubtful. right on that they sign up for SMS alerts and text messages. what we do particularly around the program of the docket in the own network . Docket in their own network is a program that we have set up in a way folks sign up online to receive more information regarding their case. And the only thing that we really ask people to provide people with customized alert and customized help is their ex-gratian thing. Right . There we can link that the Department of U.S Homeland security and USCIS release the final guidelines for the removal prospects. so there is a lot of implications for people who are not re-applying within a certain time frame. so what we do is based on the excretion data they provide to us we have an automated schedule that will communicate with folks in the ground in terms of your application time frame for them to reapply and make sure that we let them know. we also send them alerts of how much money we should be saving after they haven’t started to . So that’s one of our number one priority in our case right now in showing that people don’t fall out of pattern. People do fall out of pattern a lot of the applications are agreed by those that work for clarification they can lose if they had acquired a driver’s license, they can lose that and they could even be deported.

Speaker 1: So Im curious. you are sitting there in the room and why not just use Email to send out these notes or just have it like a website for people. Why text messaging?

Speaker 2: One of the number one things is definitely numbers don’t lie right. Most of our engagements have been through SMS. It continues to see pretty steady subscription rates . with Emails we tend to have a lot of unsubscribed. It could be a plethora of reasons why people just don’t want to receive Emails. But other than that I think the most interesting point that we found in our research. we did a small analysis of our list and we started to find that we had a lot of people signed up for our Email program. Again pretty significantly young, significantly young population and they were making a cross reference of actions or things that they were taking actions online where in the sale coming through by opening an Email. Right. so it would be either through social media happen to direct hit from the link that we have sent them a SMS message. For us specifically, our sms program has proven very effective and there is very little drop-off rates. They could actually remain very engaged through the process.

Speaker 1: So can you give us some top line numbers of how many people have signed up and what sort of health metrics you were using with regards to sms . Obviously you can’t necessarily tell somebody opens it but we know that from industry standards we have well over 95% open rates. so what are some of those total numbers?

Speaker 2: Sure. so far we have 25,000 people who have signed for the docket room network. That includes 15% of those folks that are overall folks who don’t have the requirement to remain informed in terms of what’s going with the whole docket process. But for the other folks, some of the key benchmarks we have and some of the intent that we have seen is we try to make it as engaging as possible as we have an action for people to take, right, from very little, have been able to submit if you don’t have the money to submit your renewal after we know that the submission for the renewal window is actually now. we actually had a pretty high return it terms of people. I actually have the money ready like i want to get this going i am thinking of ready to go and get this done. I have little over 50% on the first week after the renewal process was announced which is great. That’s the biggest sort of engagement we had so far for any of our SMS programs. One of the things that we are definitely grounded on is this may be the low hanging fruit right . and the big challenge ahead is figuring out the real sort of outreach that will do it in terms of referring friends and talent that you know someone who have backup of another not hang up the deal, so that we can get those people watch and the little extra push so ensure that they stay on track.


One of the biggest learning that we had was that we can also stay grounded on the fact that what we do is to build our relationship with the people on the ground and we will ground sort of all of our efforts and our engagement strategy around them. remembering right yeah like our people do come from a place of fear, people have had to be in the shadows for a really long time. after all we know that this is very much the first time that someone is undocumented. so yeah, you are probably right i think there is a level of personalization that is required to see for that to work effectively and we really are conscious about that.

Speaker 1: Obviously we know that everything . this call is probably being recorded. Everything we do is just like you know really big brothered pretty hard. So how are you bridging that trust? how are doing with security? indication, how do you do it?

Speaker 2: First off, one of the things we do before signing up in the very first email block in the very first communication that we have with them, we always let them know that one that this is a safe space. we try to reassure people that yeah, this is safe. And in terms of the back end, it’s kind of we had to set everything up in a way that it’s attorney supervised. So it’s attorney privileged kind of being more, nobody can look at people’s data and people’s information. Because you are right and it’s pretty sensitive. if they are giving their information, that’s an exact reference to, hey i am documented , i have a work permit that comes from deferred option . First of all we rely a lot on our vendor trying to make sure that that information remains safe. Everything that’s pretty hermetic as we try to minimize the number of people that have access. The amount of data transferred on top it’s important that this data is maintained in one place as much as possible. Because it’s that purpose right, a lot of times the issue of having to migrate the data between other vendor and other data bases. what we try to be very conscious in terms of security.

Speaker 1: So you do have the location data on people. are you doing anything with regards to analyzing these numbers trying to judge anything about the behaviors or anything like that with regards to the states you are working in and the fact that you have the billing addresses.

Speaker 2: yeah it comes in a range . one we use location database specifically in terms of or there on the ground resources or there not . if they are not, we have developed through a partnership with one of our partners immigration applicants network, our Prose tool that is an online tool working for remote areas where they are outside of the urban spaces network where this organizing on the ground happens and they have access to that. So we do specific targeting to people that are outside of the urban spaces to have access to it. we also try to do one of the things that we are beginning to do. We are also in the testing stage. we are trying to figure out how far away, like how much the people would actually travel to places that offer resources. So we have been partnering with a lot of legal service providers right on the ground that obviously have more capacity than we would have able to provide. it helped people to kind of do the recruitment and the outreach, and other things regarding the host. And one of the things that we started to notice particularly in and around California, people around, a lot of service providers work around the service spaces. but surprisingly when we are targeting people outside LA county area , orange county area to attend some of the service camps we had people coming from 60 to 75 miles away literally driving an entire hour , hour and a half two hours into the city to be able to have this hub. So i think that shines the light on the fact that people actually do need to have this hub and we know right a lot of the people probably, a lot of our community probably doesn’t have the driver’s license to get on that car to drive into the city for two hours. so what we are doing is this the small research is to try and show that we need to be pushing a lot of this service providers out towards the rural spaces. A lot of times this immigration work is centered around big urban spaces and not in rural spaces.

Speaker 1: What is the longer term vision how technology is going to play a role in eventually moving you along this issue?

Speaker 2: one of the things is eventually we want to get to a place where we have reached the area of being undocumented as being something shameful and being something that people can send up an application for themselves. so it remains some sort of beginning that forward of communicating with people in terms of what it is to share our stories, what it is to be like undocumented what have we done. How the other people they are getting this movement. so those are all important and i think the importance of knowing where our people are living in terms of data why it is important then of course drive in to that. And i guess the other thing is also i would like to highlight this point . I was talking with somebody who was part of the 1986 immigration package that happened and there was a lot of communication work around that. But surprisingly there was a lot of drop outs. there was a lot of people who were not coming forward to be able to fix their status. and so one the biggest learning from the implementation round was that still people would never follow up their status . so people one step to initiate their process, but they never heard back from us . so they never know at what point they dropped off. and i think the work we are doing with would be able to manage to figure out a way to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and it’s all thanks to that technology advancements that there are today.

Speaker 1: That’s great. not let anybody fall to the [inaudible 19:06]. you know all the best which you are working on . it’s a fantastic application, the text messaging and i hope you continue to grow it. thanks so much. How do people find you? how do people help you?

Speaker 2: Yes. visit us online @ www. unitedwedream.org or you can find us on Facebook on twitter and on our website, you can find our local address if you want to get involved with folks there or sign up for Email alerts that will get you in the loop of what is going on in immigration issues.

Speaker 1: Certainly one of the leaders in the space and thank you again for joining us.

what United we dream is doing with text messaging is absolutely fantastic. and it’s not as if i am a huge fanboy of SMS. But you know who I am. But if you really think about, they are doing a lot of little things right. They are using the right technology to reach an audience where they are, on devices that they have. They are adding value. so there is a reason to sign up instead of saying “hey you sign up” so that we can send you more garbage. and they are building trust. This wouldn’t work Let’s say if the NSA had suddenly put on a service that people can sign up for. Unfortunately they aren’t probably listening any way. But it wouldn’t work because the trust would not be there. I think there is a lot more potential with where they can take this system and I am excited to see what they do. Again the resources from today’s podcast can be found at wholewhale.com/podcast and as always thanks for listening.

This is been using the whole whale. For more resources on today’s show, please visit wholewhale.com/podcast. you can still follow us on Twitter @wholewhale and thanks for joining us.