Techies ‘Hack the Ban’ for undocumented immigrants in Brooklyn

February 27, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After Saturday’s all-day “Hack the Ban” hackathon, Naz Ahmad displays material created for a legal project aiding immigrants. The material was created for CUNY CLEAR, based out of the City University of New York School of Law. Photo by Mary Frost
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As home to thousands of immigrants and an increasing number of technology professionals and creatives, it was only a matter of time before the groups got together in Brooklyn.

On Saturday, tech and media pros came to the aid of groups representing undocumented immigrants at an all-day hackathon held at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering at MetroTech.

It was part of an outpouring of support for those affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order affecting immigrants and refugees from seven mostly-Muslim countries, along with an uptick in raids by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Hack the Ban” brought programmers, designers, project managers and others together for a day of creative hacking, whether it be designing a new website, storyboarding a video about how to respond during an ICE raid, or creating graphics to communicate to non-English speakers about their legal rights.

Over the course of the event, small groups scattered around NYU’s MAGNET center bent their heads together over laptops, fueled by coffee and large trays of food from around the world. At the end of a long day, the groups cheered each other’s accomplishments and spoke about the technical challenges they faced.

One team redesigned a “Hate Free Zone” website for the nonprofit DRUM, which helps South Asian low-wage immigrant workers.

“They wanted to move hosts, but we weren’t able to do that because the host they wanted to move to wasn’t working and they have no support right now, so we had to use what was existing,” said Aimee Otsu, speaking for team members Rose Kue, Amira Dhanoa, Ryan Villanueva, Chris Sun and Adnan Mutee.

When asked what worried the team most about the work they accomplished, Otsu said, “We were able to finish quite a lot of it but it’s not perfect … We would like to follow up with them, but in the meantime if something is a little funny or something messes up for the user, it’s definitely not ideal.”

A spokesperson for another group said, “What happened over the course of the day was we created a full architecture of what this project was going to look like and what the front face of it was going to be, and all of the back end things that we internally never would have thought about, like how the information we get on this site is actually useful for us on the advocacy side.” She added, “Now we have a prototype … and we can take that to our partners.”

Another IT/design team created interactive materials for CUNY CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility), a legal rights project based out of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.

Other apps in the design stage would make it easy to get in touch with local elected officials, or find a restaurant serving food from one of the seven banned countries.

A large percentage of the hackers and designers were female — and the hackathon itself ( was brainstormed by three women, all NYU alumni: Leslie Martinez, Sriya Sarkar, and Helen Carey.

Hack the Ban “is focused on bringing the tech community and the design community in NYC to come and support immigration nonprofits that are doing the frontline work for the most vulnerable immigrants,” Martinez told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Martinez said from 90 to 100 participated on Saturday, “a mix of hackers … and organizations that have come and committed the whole day to working with the tech and design community.”

The goals were to create a space where the two communities could converge, and to help support the organizations in whatever way they need, Martinez said.

“That could be updating a website for them. Or switching them over to another content management system. Or perhaps creating a chatbot for their clients,” she said. “One group is working on a raids alert application. They really vary. Others are doing infographics and other design work. It’s about meeting the needs of the organization that are here.”

Sarkar said she hopes the nonprofits working with immigrant groups affected by the current administration’s executive orders will continue their relationships with the techies and designers they met on Saturday.

“We hope that this collaborative community is able to come together and offer these organizations who don’t have a lot in terms of financial resources or technical resources in general to work more effectively in their grass roots organizing,” she said.

When asked by organizers if they would continue their relationships, the overwhelming majority of hackers said they would.




Hack the Ban projects

Eat the Ban. Project: An iOS app helping New Yorkers find restaurants featuring cuisine from countries affected by the travel ban. Team: Matthew Bambach, Kayla Galway, Andy Doro

Border Buddy, for the group MPower Change. Project: Know your rights and get in touch with legal representation before arriving at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Team: Andrew Gionfriddo, Emily Ho, Ian Solano, Saqib Banna, Taf Ashrafy

Hate Free Zone for DRUM. Project: Building a front page for their Hate Free Zones project. Team: Sarah Wever & Tiny Bedi

F*** That Noise. Project: Platform to empower people to take action for causes they care about. Creator: John Chen

AAFSC by the numbers Infographics, for the Arab American Family Support Center. Project: Taking a text based document with AAFSC metrics (demographics, outcomes data, etc.) and creating infographics for print, social media and website usage. Team: Sheena Singh, Vara Yang, Federica Bianco

Pardon Project for the Immigrant Defense Project: Build a “pardon project” to help immigrants avoid deportation. Team: Lee Wang, Andra Stanciu, Aimee Franco, Craig Storver, Lyel Resner, Nicolae Rusan, Alisa Wellek and Marie Mark

UBN Story Board for UndocuBlack. Project: Creating a story board for an introductory video about what the group does, what they offer and why they’re necessary. The target is black undocumented people. Team: Naresea Bewick, Jeana Chesnik, Julie Huynh, Sharon de la Cruz, Erica Kermani                                      

Know Your Rights materials for CUNY CLEAR. Project: Designing interactive materials for CLEAR law enforcement. Team: Naz Ahmad, Tarek Ismail

DRUM website. Project: Restructure and redesign DRUM’s website. Team: Aimee Otsu, Rose Kue, Amira Dhanoa, Ryan Villanueva, Chris Sun (Daiyi), Adnan Mutee

The Economy without Immigrants. Project: A visualization of the U.S. economy with and without immigrants. Team: Nataliya Sayenko, Nicole Baram

Postcards to Politicians. Project: An app that allows users to easily send a postcard to their representative without having to leave their computers. Team: Kamilla Khabibrakhmanova, Michael Abraham

RedadAlertas. Project: A web app to crowdsource data and verification of immigration raids, and send alerts. Team: Joshua Maas-Howard, Winnie Chen, Connor Mendenhall

Resistance Support for Center or Constitutional Rights. Project: 1) Designing CCR resistance graphic for posters, rallies; 2) creating more accessible version of “If An Agent Knocks” resource. Team: Aliya Hussain; Pam Spees; Zach Schwartz, Fei Liu, Calli Higgins

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