Two LA coders were winners in a 25-hour hackathon competition that asked 'Dreamers' brought illegally to the United States as children to come up with ways to help the immigration reform movement.
Kent Tam, a graduate of UCLA, and Justino Mora, who is currently enrolled at the school, were part of a team that won the award for best “advocacy” tool at the DREAMer Hackathon, hosted by Fwd.us. The pro-immigration reform advocacy group was co-founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Tam, Mora and their teammates created a web application that allows users to enter their zip code to see who represents them in Congress, as well as where those representatives stand on immigration reform. Each member of Congress gets a letter grade, based on information from Fwd.us and the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group.
Their “Push for Reform” tool also provides ways to contact politicians, and it will even dial up congressional offices.
“It’s not only about informing the person but it’s also about making them to take an action,” Mora told judges during a demonstration at the Mountain View headquarters, of LinkedIn, another member of Fwd.us.
Zuckerberg was such a fan of the “Push for Reform” app that he asked Fwd.us president Joe Green to integrate it into the nonprofit’s website.
“I think this is a great service,” Zuckerberg said during a Q&A with the coders. “Why wouldn’t we put this on the website?”
In an interview with KPCC Friday, Green confirmed, “Yes, it will be part of our site.”
“You saw that there is no one better to tell the story and help to think about how to advocate for immigration reform than dreamers who code,” Green said.
Fwd.us is advocating a path to citizenship for these dreamers, and relaxing visa rules for the skilled workers that Silicon Valley desires.
But immigration reform discussions have stalled in the House of Representatives since the summer. Republicans have expressed a willingness to passing piecemeal reforms. The chances, though, of legislation making it to the president's desk this year are growing slimmer with each passing day.
Green said the hackathon was an attempt to move the national spotlight onto the tech talents of the 20 participating dreamers who came to Silicon Valley from all across the country.
“Many of their parents have been deported, many of them can’t get in-state tuition where they live - they can’t get financial aid,” Green said. “Some of them have gone to college and had to drop out, and all of them have learned to code against all the odds.”
The winners of the hackathon get prizes such as Surface tablets from Microsoft, but UCLA’s Mora got most excited talking about how his team’s app is going to be on the Fwd.us website.
“It feels really good that (Zuckerberg) was able to recognize the potential of these ideas,” Mora told KPCC’s Take Two show on Friday.
The hackathon combined Mora's coding interests and activism. Mora says he was 11-years-old when he fled an abusive father in Mexico, along with his mother and siblings. He has since become an organizer for the Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
He described how intensely he and the other coders worked on the hackathon.
“We slept very little,” Mora said. “And in those 24 hours, it was really challenging and tense... the pressure was there.”
He credited the team’s victory in part to top Silicon Valley engineers and product designers who served as mentors.
Silicon Valley heavy-hitters served as judges and also awarded prizes for design and storytelling. Aside from Zuckerberg and Green, judges included Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, as well as immigration reform advocate Jose Antonio Vargas.