Earlier today my colleague wrote about how, generally, technology has failed low-income people living in America, a demographic that has been largely ignored by both developers and growth hackers.
But while these low-income individuals are classified as “Americans,” many of them are not actually American citizens. A high proportion of people living in the United States whose household earns less than $25,000 a year are undocumented immigrants. Ironically, some of these low-income undocumented immigrants are benefitting from some relatively trivial “technological innovations” aimed at the more affluent class.
That’s because, as Nextgov reports, undocumented immigrants have been using social media check-ins in apps like Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp to prove they’ve resided in the country for a specific period of time–so they can meet continuous residence requirements under immigration policies such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). And with President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration allowing undocumented immigrants to be shielded under deportation, the practice of social media check-ins as proof of residency is expected to continue.
On November 20th, President Obama signed an executive action that is expected to enable five million undocumented immigrants to legally remain in the U.S.–provided they meet a number of requirements. They must lack a criminal record, have children who are U.S. citizens, and also meet a continuous residence requirement of at least five years. That last requirement can be particularly difficult to prove.
After all, if you’re an undocumented immigrant, you usually don’t have pay slips for work you’ve done, nor are you likely to possess a driver’s license, utility bills, or insurance documents in your own name. So how do people who were so afraid of being found out that they went out of their way to leave behind evidence of their existence now prove they’ve been in the U.S. for five years?
Facebook and Foursquare, that’s how.
It’s hard to believe that something as silly as checking into a McDonald’s via Facebook’s app could solidify your future in the U.S., but that’s exactly what’s happening. Lacking any traditional paper evidential proof, undocumented immigrants are now finding success by submitting printed copies of past check-ins at bars, restaurants, and movie theaters to prove they’ve been in the country since a specified date.
Those online check-ins are being accepted as valid proof by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services–but no new U.S. immigration policy guidelines specifically list social media check-ins as a valid form of continuous residency evidence. Neither was allowing Foursquare check-ins as proof of residency in any way mentioned by President Obama in his latest executive action.
Social media check-ins as evidential proof slowly became more common last year–a year after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals came into effect. The DACA is an immigration policy allowing illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 to stay in the country provided they can prove when they entered the country. Since these foreign teenagers were like teenagers all over the world–they grew up with social media and online check-ins–many started submitting online check-ins as evidence of their time in the country. One undocumented immigrant even used Xbox Live account records to prove he’d been in the country for a specific period of time.
As David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told ABC News at the time, “the [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have been] viewing evidence very liberally, not restrictively, and they’ve been very helpful about accepting alternative forms of evidence that show evidence that they were present around June 15” (when DACA went into effect).
But if the last four days is any indication, it’s not just young, undocumented immigrants applying under DACA who will use social media check-ins to prove continuous residence. An immigration attorney from New York confirmed to me today that in the short time since President Obama’s executive order, three undocumented immigrants who contacted him–one in his 50s–asked if their online check-ins can prove residency.
“In most cases, I suspect the answer is a ‘yes’,” he says. “It seems laughable, but Facebook can give them their future here. It’s very fortunate.”