Erick Garcia said he still can’t believe he is one of the 20 Dreamers who will be participating later this month in a hackathon hosted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s advocacy group FWD.us.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” the 27-year-old told VOXXI. “I feel a little nervous, because it’s my first time doing something like this. But at the same time, I’m really excited to learn what they’ll teach us in terms of new tools and technology we can use to advocate for immigration reform.”
Garcia, who holds a computer systems engineering degree from Arizona State University, and the other Dreamers will team up for two days with top engineers and designers to come up with “prototypes of products to aid the immigration reform movement,” FWD.us president and founder Joe Green said in a blog post.
“Their creations will help spread the word: Americans want immigration reform now,” Green said.
The hackathon will be held Nov. 20 and 21 at LinkedIn’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Among the mentors who will be on hand to work with the Dreamers are Zuckerberg, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, and Groupon founder Andrew Mason.
The hackathon is the latest effort by FWD.us to advocate for immigration reform legislation that would pave a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Past efforts included the release of a television commercial featuring a Dreamer who wants to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Millions of DREAMers and their families with stories just like those participating in the Hackathon wait in limbo, unable to contribute fully to their communities and having to live in constant uncertainty — and we can’t wait any longer,” Green said.
Hackathon Dreamers embody need for immigration reform
The hackathon comes several months after Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post that he was inspired to launch FWD.us after hearing the story of an undocumented student.
The student attended a class on entrepreneurship that Zuckerberg taught at an after-school program. Zuckerberg said the student, who was born in Mexico and grew up in the United States, told him he wasn’t sure that he would be able to go to college because he is undocumented.
“Many students in my community are in the same situation; they moved to the United States so early in their lives that they have no memories of living anywhere else,” Zuckerberg wrote. “These students are smart and hardworking, and they should be part of our future.”
Green shares a similar opinion. He said each of the 20 Dreamers selected for the hackathon are “an embodiment of the pressing need for meaningful immigration reform.”
Many of the Dreamers attending the hackathon hold technology-focused degrees and plan to pursue a career in the technology field. A few of them are already working for tech companies, using the work permits they received under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that the Obama administration implemented last summer.
And though the 20 Dreamers come from various parts of the country — including Arizona, California, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin — Green said they are “united by the unique challenges facing undocumented families across America.”
“Too many of our participants have gone years without seeing a family member or have been turned down for scholarships to college based solely on their undocumented status, but their courage has spurred them to continue pursuing their dreams,” he said.
Despite obstacles, Garcia didn’t give up on his dream
Garcia said he didn’t give up on pursuing his dream of earning a college degree even when the merit-based scholarship that ASU awarded him was taken away when Arizona voters approved Proposition 300 in 2006.
The ballot initiative forbids undocumented students from receiving state and federal financial aid. It also requires every student to show proof of citizenship in order to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities.
Garcia was entering his junior year when Proposition 300 was implemented in 2007. With no scholarships left and no money to pay the out-of-state tuition cost at ASU, he dropped out. However, he was able to return to school and finish his degree when he was awarded a private scholarship a year later.
After graduating from ASU in 2011, Garcia went on to work as the online data director for DRM Action Coalition. He also works for Presente.org as the advocacy group’s technology coordinator.
Now, Garcia said he sees the hackathon as not only a “huge chance” to code with some of the country’s top tech experts, but also as something that will “give hope” to other Dreamers who are struggling to get a college education and pursue their careers because of a lack of legal status.
“It’ll give them hope that they can get here too,” he said.