In the world that we live in, nothing is more important than information; in politics, in economics, in health and, above all, in immigration.
This was more than clear to Suguey Carmona, a 14-year-old Latina programming specialist whose goal has been to revolutionize one of the most popular tools in American households today: Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa.
The artificial intelligence device interacts through voice commands with users and can control different smart devices, transforming itself into a home automation system.
Since Amazon released Alexa’s multilingual mode last October, many Hispanic families have also been able to access all its benefits.
But beyond giving the weather report, playing music or planning alarms, Alexa can now answer key questions about immigration for those who need it most.
“I chose to work on this technology because I see my own friends and family who have questions and who are struggling to make a living, and I thought maybe I should do something about it,” Carmona, daughter of Mexican immigrants, told NBC News.
Having trained as a programmer since her sixth grade in Austin, Texas, the young Latina has developed a technology that allows Alexa to answer key questions for those who want to know more about immigration status, administrative procedures, and even job opportunities in the United States.
Once users download the app, “they can ask Alexa questions directly, as they would for Apple’s Siri or other voice-automated technology,” continues the media. “For example, if a person wants to know whether they can apply for a driver’s license depending on their immigration status, the app will respond by asking them where they live, for example, so that it can provide the user details based on their geographical location, as laws differs by state.”
Carmona’s work was carried out after in-depth research and multiple interviews with immigrants, which were then translated into coding language with the assistance of Hello World, a computer science program based in Austin and San Francisco.
“Suguey struggled to use the Alexa interface, which is usually used by developers with 10-15 years of experience,” said Sabina Bharwani, the program’s founder, to NBC News. “It was a steep learning curve, but when she mastered it, it meant more.”
This is, however, one of the few pieces of good news in terms of technology and immigration.
For much of 2019, Amazon has been the focus of widespread criticism for its collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the persecution of immigrants in the country.
Following the takeoff of the Trump administration’s “Zero-Tolerance” immigration policy, corporations such as Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Wayfair have collaborated with facial recognition technology, whose data is hosted by Palantir, to data analytics company “that contracts with ICE on the Amazon Web Services cloud,” according to the Washington Post during 2018.
While ICE said in a statement that the technology was used for “criminal investigations related to fraudulent activities, identity theft, and child exploitation crimes,” the record of the government agencies speaks for itself.
That’s why initiatives like Suguey’s are a brief demonstration that, in the digital world, there are always ways to resist.