Funding and partnership to advance digital infrastructure supporting the immigrants rights movement for the Houston metropolitan area
Last week, Justicia Lab, the nonprofit innovation incubator for technology solutions supporting the immigrant rights movement, announced a new $1 million grant from the Houston Endowment. Justicia Lab, a program of Pro Bono Net, creates digital tools that advance immigrant justice through collaboration and helps immigrants to navigate the legal system and their rights within it. This new funding from the Houston Endowment marks the largest single contribution in the initiative’s 15 year history and an important milestone in the national immigrant and refugee grantmaking landscape by directly investing in the development of nonprofit public interest technology.
Justicia Lab will apply the funds toward improving and integrating digital infrastructure so that immigrants in the Houston metro area can better access justice within a fast-changing legal system. The goal of the partnership is to co-create and pilot a first of its kind comprehensive universal intake and case referral platform to support recent arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers, existing residents including those with DACA status, and those who have been in the United States for many years and are seeking citizenship. This free and accessible tool will integrate and improve existing Justicia Lab and Pro Bono Net platforms that help people understand their eligibility for immigration relief (Immi), complete immigration forms and apply for naturalization (Citizenshipworks), and connect them to in-person and virtual legal assistance (Immigration Law Help, Immigration Advocates Network, and Remote Legal Connect).
“The creation of a unified tool that can help streamline and simplify the delivery of legal assistance for both immigrants and their advocates has long been a North Star for the immigrants’ rights movement,” said Justicia Lab Director Rodrigo Camarena. “We are so grateful to Houston Endowment for their support and partnership on this issue – it’s an ambitious commitment to making a significant positive impact in the lives of thousands of Houstonians that will also help us build a stronger national immigrants’ rights infrastructure.”
As a border region and major metropolitan area as well as being the most diverse city in the US, Houston has been the epicenter of national conversations around issues in immigrant support. From aiding unaccompanied minors, assisting asylum seekers, or supporting the arrival of Afghan evacuees, Houston’s immigration legal service providers have had to quickly mobilize and coordinate resources to tackle new and difficult challenges. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, highlighting the need for local advocates to have a strong tech infrastructure that enhances coordination and expands legal resources, including access to national pro bono legal assistance.
“Houston’s greatest asset is its immense diversity, and we are deeply committed to ensuring that new Houstonians move along the pathway to citizenship,” said Ann Stern, president and CEO of Houston Endowment. “Justicia Lab’s innovative approach provides a unique and distinctive way to serve residents in this way which will, in turn, strengthen our region.”
Justicia Lab will work with its new partners to co-design and pilot the tool with initial use in the Houston metro area, with plans to later scale the tool nationally. Expected Houston partners for the pilot include the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston, Galveston-Houston Immigrant Representation Project (GHIRP), YMCA of Greater Houston, Boat People SOS (BPSOS), and Bonding Against Adversity.
“This tool could be a game-changer for immigrants seeking to learn more about potential immigration relief available to them and to access immigration legal services through a streamlined referral portal,” said Zenobia Lai, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC). “This tool will minimize the trauma experienced by immigrants in having to recount their experience repeatedly as they seek assistance from different legal services providers. We are excited to partner with Justicia Lab to bring technology to improve access to justice for immigrants.”
Once piloted later this year, the platform will equip immigrants and their advocates, community navigators, and legal staff with plain-language, translated, multimedia educational resources to provide them with more information on their status and U.S. immigration law. This next generation of tools and resources will provide the technological infrastructure to connect immigrants and to a legal support system of community based organizations, legal service providers, and pro bono attorneys.
About Justicia Lab
Justicia Lab is Pro Bono Net’s immigrant justice technology lab, and a nonprofit legal tech initiative whose mission is to transform immigrant justice through collaboration, creativity, and technology. We work hand in hand with immigrants and their advocates to identify common challenges and incubate scalable digital tools to advance help immigrants navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more. Justicia Lab has developed over a dozen immigrant justice legal tools to scale and support the work of advocates and bridge the justice gap, helping over 500,000 people find critical immigration information and relief.
About Pro Bono Net
Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in building technology and collaborations that increase access to justice. From connecting attorneys to those most in need to creating legal tools to help individuals advocate for themselves, Pro Bono Net makes the law work for the many and not the few.
About Houston Endowment
Houston Endowment is a private foundation that partners with others to achieve a vibrant and inclusive region where all residents can thrive. We advance equity of opportunity through deep commitments to PreK-12 public education and civic engagement; support cultural assets that engage and connect us; and drive sustainable change across our region.