Two Philadelphia lawyers who built software to simplify the process of applying for a U.S. green card are essentially giving away their product to low-income immigrants as a direct response to President Trump’s travel ban.
One of the attorneys, Jeremy Peskin, knows firsthand how difficult it is to navigate U.S. immigration laws. Born in Canada, he got his undergraduate and law degrees in the United States and worked at a large corporate law firm in New York. When he married an American woman and could then apply for a green card, he figured with his legal background he’d have no trouble filling out the paperwork himself. But the forms were so overly complicated and frustratingly counterintuitive that he gave up and hired an immigration attorney.
To Peskin, the system seemed unnecessarily arduous, not to mention costly — most immigration attorneys charged anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to file a green-card application.
So he and the immigration lawyer he had hired for his own case, James Pittman, created Borderwise, a mobile app that leads a user through simplified questions to ready their application. It’s a little like Turbo Tax, except there are a network of immigration lawyers who review the forms before they are submitted and offer legal consultations.
Borderwise charges $500 for the service. But after Trump announced his refugee and immigration ban — now frozen during a legal battle — Peskin felt emboldened to do something in response. So he and Pittman decided that for any immigrant eligible for permanent resident status who earned less than $30,000, they’d give them access for $1.
“It registered at a very visceral level for me. On a personal level it was upsetting; as a founder of Borderwise it was motivating,” Peskin said. “Our mission is to eliminate barriers to immigration. We want to make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind.”
Federal courts have halted Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers coming from seven majority-Muslim countries. But Peskin said there is an urgency to the green-card project as the Trump administration ramps up arrests and deportations.
The company is in its infancy — the app was launched in October — and was already letting some nonprofits that help immigrants use the software free. Offering it for $1 to low-income immigrants is a way to show them during a time of uncertainty and fear for their futures that “they do have allies who are concerned about their rights and their access,” Pittman said.
“We want to help people, and to the extent we’re doing that by forfeiting $500 fees once in a while, we’re perfectly fine with that,” Peskin said. “We found ourselves at the center of this issue. We had a choice of rising up or ignoring it, and I don’t think either of us at any point considered just ignoring it.”
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