Brook Kohn and Nathali Bertran brought their frustration with the DACA application process to the Columbus Give Back Hack — a 54-hour hack-a-thon aimed at developing sustainable social enterprises. There, they put together a team and over a weekend built a wireframe and working prototype for a platform that would ease the process for dreamers applying for DACA.

What was it like growing up as a dreamer?

Nathali grew up in New York City – she moved there when she was just 9 and went to elementary school just like any other kid. She didn’t realize what her status as undocumented meant until she had to apply for college and applications kept requiring her social security numbers. So, she had to dig into the possibilities with her guidance counselors and family to figure out what she could do. Coming from a low-income background, her family couldn’t afford a full education, so her options were limited. This was 2010, and a common barrier that dreamers face.

Today, there is a lot more awareness in education. Some institutions disregard the social security requirement if you’ve attended public school. Others treat you like a student from abroad. There are still challenges on scholarships — Nathali was one of the lucky few who received a scholarship.

What is DACA?

In 2012, President Obama passed DACA, and that allowed Nathali to get a work permit, and allowed her to look for a job like anyone else. As Brook explained,

DACA is really deferred action. It was created way back when we had the Beatles touring America, specifically for John Lennon. He was a British citizen, but he wanted to stay in the United States. So his smart immigration attorney said OK let’s just defer his deportation because he has overstayed his artist visa but he’s contributing so much to America. People wanted him to stay, because he made a lot of money for everyone — sold out shows and all this artistic value and revenue. So they said, let’s keep him here and just put him up at the bottom of the list, and focus our attention on people that are causing harm.

It’s from this same deferred action that DACA was born in 2012. But the process is complicated. Complex forms. All to be done with pen and paper. Nathali was lucky that her parents were able to save enough to afford a lawyer – it was over $1,000, which is significant when you’re from a low-income background. She was also lucky that she didn’t miss school, and had records of her attendance because you have to show that you’ve never left the country after you arrived. She has to renew her application every two years – but now that she’s a working professional, that’s less of a burden.

How did DACA Time come about?

For many dreamers the process is both complicated and expensive, creating a huge barrier. After Nathali explained this to Brook, they decided they wanted to do something about it. So they brought this idea to Give Back Hack to build a platform that would help automate and simplify the process of filling out these forms, to make it more accessible to other dreamers.

The response was fantastic. Derek Dehart, a product manager at Cover My Meds, joined their team, and Nicholas Tietz came onboard as their developer, as well as a couple of talented designers – Chriss Barr and Andy Jett.

After Give Back Hack, they took their idea to Columbus Soup and APTE (Alleviating Poverty through Entrepreneurship) conference at OSU, which led them to SEA Change — a Columbus program for helping develop social enterprises.

Now through all of this, mind you, the entire team has full-time jobs, and yet they’re pouring their spare time into this passion, working fast to develop their platform and connections into the community.

What happened when DACA was rescinded?

In September/October of 2017, the current administration ended DACA. Nathali’s renewed her application right before it ended, so she has until 2019, but for those whose applications have expired before getting renewed, they’re unable to work until this gets resolved. DACA Time has had to put on the breaks, but they’re using the extra time to connect further with the dreamer community to understand how they can best serve them, as well as using the time to build out the platform and becoming advocates for change that will empower dreamers.

On the whole, there is huge public and corporate support for legislation that provides better solutions for dreamers — something which could significantly help with the limitations current DACA recipients face. (For example, you can’t leave the country as a DACA recipient, unless you have advanced parole.)

Still, it’s difficult being part of a political game. Especially when you don’t know what will happen with your work, your house loans, transportation, etc. When unemployment is at a historic low, it’s not like 800,000 DACA recipients are insignificant. There are probably another 1.9 million that could apply. (Employment is a huge issue here in Ohio… there aren’t enough people to fill jobs!)

At the end of the day, I hope 2018 brings a forward some great change, and that dreamers have their dreams come true.

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