Building AI Tools To Safeguard Immigration Rights

Poesy Chen

Artificial intelligence (AI) is integral to our daily lives, powering tools that provide us with Netflix movie recommendations, new articles, and social media feeds. Unfortunately, these valuable AI tools are nonexistent in the immigration sector. We need these powerful tools to unlock the potential of immigration advocates fighting for human rights and equal access to immigration justice.

While the ubiquitous presence of AI in our daily lives may feel strange, it’s devastating to be excluded entirely from it. It is especially true for asylum seekers, who are among the most underserved immigrants yet receive the least support. 

Lawyers and advocates who serve this vulnerable population are struggling to keep up with the growing surge at the border, leading to a spiraling human rights crisis. Navigating the asylum-seeking process in our adversarial immigration system is challenging, and our immigration advocates and nonprofit partners are all too familiar with this fact. With band-aid immigration policies pivoting so quickly, there are layers upon layers of complexity. This is precisely where AI tools can help wield innovative solutions.

Mobile Pathways is now collecting millions of immigration data points with the broader goal of using machine learning to demystify the immigration court process and increase trust in the immigration system. However, it’s important to note that we only work with publicly available information about the immigration court process and do not share or collect personal data.

As a tech nonprofit leader passionate about technology for good, I asked myself, “How can we use AI tools to drive equal access to immigration justice?”

Visualization of data is a core pillar of the offerings Mobile Pathways provides to our nonprofit partners. Many charts and tables about immigration statistics are available online, including our own data findings on immigration justice trends. Yet there remain critical gaps that Mobile Pathways can address, and here is what I see missing from the intersection of AI tools and the immigration sector. 

1. “Presentation Matters” The presentation of the information must give our partners easy, at-a-glance insights and allow them to interact with the data, challenge it, and build trust in it. Through easy and accessible data, we can help our partners understand key trends and draw their own conclusions about what the data is showing them.

2. “Make It Actionable” To effectively apply data to an asylum seeker’s case, it’s important to extract valuable insights from it. Your data presentation should aim to provide value and empower users to explore and discover actionable insights. For instance, we have developed prototype data visualizations of immigration cases that enable immigration attorneys to easily identify patterns by selecting specific judges, court locations, motions, and other relevant factors. This way, they can make informed decisions and take necessary actions to help their clients.

3. “Ignite Innovation” Our goal is to let machine learning algorithms run through various permutations and combinations to highlight trends in the data. For example, how would wait times be impacted if asylum rates rise? If an immigrant relocates from Houston to Chicago, would their odds of winning their case improve? Our intent with these simulations is to empower immigration attorneys and advocates to experiment with parameters so they can see the impact at both micro and macro levels.

4.Expect to fail A whopping 87% of Data Science projects never make it to production. Planning for failures is essential as you play with the data. Expect course corrections along the way and plan to experiment with different approaches before productizing your solutions. Even diverse teams with deep data science experience fail often, and we should plan accordingly.

5. Be open to the wisdom of the many At Mobile Pathways, we exist to empower and digitally transform immigration advocates and ensure their success. We tap into the experienced and trusted hivemind of our immigration nonprofit partners to promote discussion and collaboration and further each other’s efforts. Just like academia uses the process of peer review to govern the integrity of its research, we use the wisdom of many to make sure that we provide valuable insights and solutions to our partners.

Poesy Chen

The increasing prevalence of AI in our daily lives has opened up new avenues for organizations like Mobile Pathways to leverage technology for good in immigration justice. Thanks to Okta for Good Tech Fellowships and Patrick McGovern Foundation, Mobile Pathways has woven these three elements into a multi-year roadmap that will unlock the potential of AI tools to improve immigration justice.

As we continue to develop innovative solutions to empower immigration advocates and transform the system, it's important to remember that we are not alone in this mission. We stand alongside foundations, technology companies, and other nonprofit organizations, trailblazing this path with us. With the wisdom of the many, we can move forward toward meaningful progress.