You’ve heard a lot about undocumented immigrants in recent years. The current immigration crisis happening at our border is heartbreaking, and the family separations that occurred as a result of the “zero-tolerance” policy from the current administration goes against everything this country stands for.
In addition, President Trump’s recent decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is one piece of the heated debate between Democrats and Republicans, leading to the recent government shutdown. It is because of DACA that children of undocumented immigrants can live safely in this country as contributing members of society.
It is because of DACA that Elizabeth Vilchis is here, living in the U.S., and thriving as a leader in the tech community. As a Latina woman and an undocumented immigrant, it is a really big deal that Vilchis started tech company latinoTech, a company on a mission to strengthen Latinx leadership in the technology world.
The Technology Industry Lacks Diversity
Historically, white males have dominated the technology industry, with very few female leaders. According to a 2016 report by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, approximately 83 percent of high tech executives are white, and Hispanics only make up about 8-13 percent of those executive tech roles. In addition, only 20 percent of high tech executives are women, and only 36-48 percent of tech employees (at any level) are female. The statistics don’t lie: in the past the tech industry was one of the least diverse, with a bias towards white males.
These facts make it even more impressive, and important, that Elizabeth Vilchis has started her own successful tech company. Any company that advances the way people live, work and thrive is a huge benefit to our country, our economy and our world, but the fact that Vilchis, a woman and an undocumented immigrant, has worked to bring about this change is even more meaningful.
Elizabeth Vilchis Came to the US When She Was 7 Years Old
At the age of seven, Elizabeth Vilchis came to the United States with her family when they immigrated illegally from Mexico. It was just Elizabeth, along with her parents and younger brother, but her family has grown since living in the U.S. They came to this country when her family feared that they could no longer make a living in Mexico. Her nuclear family lived together with other relatives in her uncle’s three-bedroom apartment, sharing a room with her parents and two brothers. She only left the house to go to school for fear that she might be deported. In an interview with Senator Cory Booker, Vilchis shared how “growing up in America, my family lived in constant fear of being deported. My siblings and I led very sheltered lives because of my parents’ fears and their efforts to try and protect us. We were not allowed to socialize or leave the house.”
Vilchis was able to live and work in this country because of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that offered protection and legal status in the U.S. despite her family’s illegal immigration. Focusing on the reason her family uprooted and moved to America — for better opportunities and a better life — instead of focusing on fear, Vilchis pursued a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and began her journey to change the face of the tech industry.
In her own words, DACA allowed Vilchis the opportunity to graduate from university with a degree in mechanical engineering, to enter the workforce, to earn an income, and to pursue a career in technology. Today she is a force in the tech world, founding latinoTech when she was only 30 years old.
Her Tech Company Will Change the Way Latinos Live and Work
In 2013, after a two-year stint working a Samsung, Vilchis left to pursue her own ventures. She had a vision to create a company that would support and lift up the Latinx community and provide a space and venue for other Latinx tech entrepreneurs to share experiences and best practices.
Originally, latinoTech began as a meetup group where Latinx entrepreneurs would gather for happy hours after work. It wasn’t a formal company, but more of a community of people with shared interests and goals. Once Vilchis came on board in 2016, that community grew to an official entity, and thanks to her leadership it became a company focused on supporting technology entrepreneurs with everything from hackathons, workshops, speaker panels, networking events and pitch nights.
LatinoTech is unique in several ways, but arguably the most impressive point of difference comes from its leadership and its mission. There are very few female CEOs in the tech world who are both undocumented and Hispanic. And beyond that, there are very few companies focused on elevating Latinos to help them thrive in the tech world. According to Vilchis in a Forbes article, “we are the second fastest growing population in the U.S. If [Latinos] are going to be the majority of the country in ten years, the majority of the problems that will exist will be Latino problems.” And solutions to those problems will develop when you foster the budding Latinx entrepreneurs who understand the perspective of Latinx immigrants in America.
Talent is talent, good ideas are valid and important, and supporting those entrepreneurs regardless of their status is helping to both change the perception of undocumented people and also uplift the Latinx community.
latinoTech Is Focused On Inclusivity
During her career, Vilchis had several encounters where she wasn’t taken seriously, or given opportunities because she was both a woman, and an undocumented immigrant. Companies didn’t want to associate with her because of her status, and those experiences shaped who she would be come, and how she would build her company. She vowed to create an inclusive environment for employees and entrepreneurs. You do not need a Social Security Number to start a company, so Vilchis is proud to have fellow undocumented immigrants as some of the entrepreneurs at latinoTech. Talent is talent, good ideas are valid and important, and supporting those entrepreneurs regardless of their status is helping to both change the perception of undocumented people and also uplift the Latinx community.
And it’s working. Ramphis Castro, cofounder of the venture capital fund ScienceVest, has said “latinoTech has a real opportunity to be a national voice for innovation across the U.S. It is just exciting to have an organization that doesn’t only talk about integrating different voices in leadership but is actually doing it.”
When looking back on her road to success, Vilchis explains she gained a lot of inspiration from her parents. While being an entrepreneur is hard, being an undocumented immigrant is harder. While running a business and trying to give people opportunity and hope is hard, what her family went through coming to this country is harder. She carries that perspective with her, and “when things get hard keep going, you will find a way if you have purpose.”
In 2017 Vilchis Attended The State of The Union With Senator Cory Booker
On January 30th, 2018, President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker brought Elizabeth Vilchis as his guest, serving as an inspiration to DREAMers everywhere and as a leader in the tech industry, creating jobs and hope for other undocumented immigrants and Latinx across the country. In a statement, Booker said, “Liz encapsulates everything that is right about this country. She’s bright, hardworking, and is making a positive impact on her community each and every day. Sending her back to a country she barely knows is cruel, heartless, and unjust. It’s simply not who we are as Americans.”
The hope was that having several successful, hard-working DREAMers in the audience of the State of the Union would demonstrate how important their contributions are to our society. The goal was to show Americans that undocumented immigrants are an integral part of this country, and that they will rise above the hatred and intolerance caused by the Trump administration. One year later, and sadly our country is no better off.
But Vilchis isn’t giving up, and isn’t backing down. Currently, Vilchis’ focus is to further grow latinoTech and she is launching a venture capital fund to help support other Latinx entrepreneurs in the tech industry. She is also working on a new app that isn’t just timely, but also close to her heart.
She Is Developing an App to Help Reunite Families Separated at the Border
During her journey to America, Vilchis was separated from her own parents for a brief period of time after crossing the border. In an interview with Soledad O’Brien, Vilchis discusses the impact that experience had on her childhood, and her life. And many years later, family separations are still happening, as thousands of migrant children were taken away from their parents thanks to the administrations zero-tolerance policy. And even worse, several of those families are still separated. Vilchis is working on a tech solution that just might help reunite these families.
“No one else was going to build this but us.”@LizVilchis remembers the terror she felt when she was separated from her parents crossing the border.
Now, the tech CEO is launching an app to reunite families separated by Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. pic.twitter.com/WiWAk9Qv6W
— Matter of Fact (@matteroffacttv) July 14, 2018
Her app ReUnidos aims to serve as a tech solution and a tool for families, that can help them locate and reunite with their family members. The concept is that the app will gather and aggregate information from both children (provided by the attorneys working with them) and parents to help find matches in a more efficient manner than the government is currently able to accommodate. It’s a lofty goal, but a goal that is very personal to Vilchis, and has the potential to change the lives of so many people in need. And even if Vilchis should one day be faced with a worst-case scenario — because she is a DREAMer and could potentially be deported and forced to leave the country she has grown up in, built a business in and called home for the majority of her life — she is seeing everything as an opportunity to be empowered and help her community.
“Regardless of my citizenship status, I can have an impact in my community,” Vilchis says. She is a forced to be reckoned with, and a powerful leader and role model in the technology industry and the world. The fact that she is undocumented is not what defines her, but it certainly has inspired her passion to help others in the Latinx community and other immigrants looking to build a life for themselves in the U.S. To date, Congress and the administration have not been able to find a permanent immigration solution, and this is an issue that can no longer be ignored. She and DREAMers everywhere are not willing to wait and they will not settle for anything less than the life and freedom they deserve.