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ELLIS ISLAND 2.0

Digital footprints: How Facebook will help immigrants prove their residency

Chris Fowler
By Chris Fowler

Board chairman, New American Leaders Project

So president Barack Obama just noted that we were (mostly) all “strangers once too.”

But that’s only because we weren’t already friends on Foursquare.

With his executive order giving undocumented Americans who have been here for five years or more an opportunity to “get right with the law,” Obama just proved the worth of Foursquare—and Facebook check-ins and Tinder locators and Uber tracking, for that matter.

Millions of immigrants have been waiting for this moment. They have spent years cleaning up their financial footprints, paying taxes, collecting records that show just how long they have actually been in the United States.

If past amnesty actions are any guide, we’re about to see a whole lot of document verification—and yes, some fraud:

“In the late 1980’s, immigration officials approved more than 90 percent of the 1.3 million amnesty applications for a specialized program for agricultural workers, even though they had identified possible fraud in nearly a third of those applications.”

But that was 1986. Today, aside from the traditional ways of proving residence—utility bills, bank statements or any other proof of domicile—could it be possible for someone to prove residency through social media? And are they perhaps more reliable methods?

It’s already the case that the DREAMers were using social media as part of their applications. One immigration lawyer told ABC News that 80% of applicants he saw used social media in their application:

“…that includes Facebook check-ins. Applicants have submitted June 15 check-ins at restaurants and movie theaters, parties and sporting events, to show they were in the United States. …people might also submit tweets or Netflix records. He said one young woman took a picture of her sister at their home in June. It was dated and the picture clearly showed it was the home that matched the address she provided.”

Makes sense, right?

After all, our country is getting older and more brown. But those two facts don’t overlap. And the younger, more diverse members of our communities are more likely to be digital savvy citizens, even if they aren’t yet American ones, officially.

President Obama gets that.

His executive order doesn’t leave everyone #winning. There was no reset button on what everyone agrees is a pretty broken system. If anything, last night the president changed the meaning of CIR from “comprehensive immigration reform” to “compromised immigration reform.” But his speech took a major step in ending the government’s longtime ambiguity: undocumented Americans provide value to our country and culture.

We are, after all, a country of immigrants.

So if you’re an undocumented American and checked in on Foursquare five years ago, congratulations.

This is yet another case where it’s beneficial to be an early adopter.

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