"It was intense, man," said Carlos Vargas, an undocumented immigrant that was brought into the U.S. as a child. "For a day straight we just worked and worked and worked with some mentors that Zuckerberg and LinkedIn brought. You would code until you couldn't, then lay down for a couple hours, then start coding again," said Carlos. Carlos was working with a group of other coders and mentors on Undoculife, winner of the storytelling competition of the DREAMer Hackathon.
The news has been all over the papers and Twitterverse: the guys behind LinkedIn and Dropbox, Reid Hoffman and Drew Houston, joined FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg's organization, in hosting a Hackathon for undocumented immigrants to raise awareness on immigration reform. The Hackathon was held in LinkedIn's headquarters in Silicon Valley, and consisted of 24 hours of snackfood-fueled coding, building advocacy tools to help undocumented immigrants and in immigration reform.
"These students are smart and hardworking, and they should be part of our future," wrote Zuckerberg of the project. Zuckerberg's organization, FWD.us, has been outspoken on the issue of immigration reform, and has tried to highlight the broad economic benefits of industries (such as the tech industry) being able to draw from the large pool of immigrant labor that is currently ineligible to work due to immigration status.
One of these undocumented immigrants, Erick Garcia, helped to program Undoculife along with Carlos Vargas and Celso Mireles. "Undoculife is a program that simulates what it's like to live without immigration status, sometimes little things like not being able to use a certain road because you know the police will be checking for immigration status," said Erick, before talking about laws like SB 1070 that make the situations in the game a reality for him and his family in Arizona. Though the team for Undoculife was given the storytelling award, Carlos assures us that "the community is the real winner. Every app and program we created here is to help our community."
When the Hackathon was complete, the team which put together Undoculife was congratulated by Zuckerberg, who tweeted that Undoculife was "one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while." It's available at Undoculife.org, don't forget to press "E" to forward the dialogue in the game.
Many of those attending the Hackathon, which so thoroughly impressed the titans of Silicon Valley that are so pivotal to the U.S. economy, have DACA status. This is a temporary status to allow some undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to have legal status in the country and be able to work for two years. Once this status has run out, however, it is unknown what will happen to that room full of talented coders; they may have to go back to the shadow economy, where their labor is devalued, chances to work are scarce and their opportunities to stay in the country are few; right now, the future for the Undoculife team is still quite uncertain.