UC Berkeley organizations launch policy, technological innovations to protect immigrant community

Maya Valluru/Staff

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The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, and the Banatao Institute have launched a series of technological and policy innovations to protect refugees and immigrants.

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute combine the research strength of multiple UC campuses — Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz — and were created by the California State Legislature to connect laboratory research and the development of applications, platforms, companies and new industries. The CITRIS and Banatao Institute have facilitated multiple projects looking to protect refugees and immigrants, like Digital Refuge, studies on Twitter bot accounts that spread hate speech on immigration issues, and an app that connects refugees to services and NGOs through social media chatbots.

“Broadly, (the innovations are) improving immigrants’ access to vital health, legal, and other services,” said campus alumnus and research fellow at Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, or BIMI, Carl Plant in an email. “Our focus is in California, but many of our results could be applied in other states.”

BIMI is a partnership of faculty, researchers and students who investigate human mobility and the effects of migration on societies around the world, according to the BIMI website.

The partnership used a CITRIS Seed Fund Award in 2018 to develop an interactive map that visualizes “spatial mismatch” — the term used to describe the disconnect between low-income households and nearby suitable job opportunities — specifically for immigrant communities and the essential services they need, according to the CITRIS website.

“The map has revealed an increased amount of immigrant populations in suburban communities while an abundance of immigrant services (are) located in more metropolitan … city areas,” said campus senior and BIMI Collegium Fellow Carina Hernandez in an email. “Thus (there is) a spacial mismatch of where immigrant services are provided and where immigrant communities are predominantly located.”

Using the information gleaned from the map, BIMI suggested several measures to local government and policymakers to address a lack of resources and infrastructure for immigrant communities in the Bay Area, according to Hernandez.

The suggestions included midsized cities making investments in learning from immigrant communities in the area, collaboration with state officials to create a service database for the immigrant community and the expansion of services accessible to immigrant residents, according to Hernandez.

“The map includes all available immigrant health and legal aid clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Hernandez said. “The user is able to search for specifically legal and/or health clinics in their area through zip code and further filter the type of services they are interested in and languages provided.”

Similarly to Plant, Hernandez mentioned that, depending on the success and impact of the project, BIMI hopes to expand the web app to the Central Valley, where a large number of immigrant communities are located and could benefit from the services.

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.