By Kent Wong
Director, UCLA Labor Center
The UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center (DRC), in partnership with Netflix employees and DREAMer’s Roadmap (a program to support undocumented student access to higher education), sponsored a hackathon at the Netflix campus in Silicon Valley, August 10–12, 2018. Through a generous gift from Netflix employees, 40 immigrant youth from across the country spent three days developing innovative online resources and apps to support the rights and needs of immigrants and to address the increasingly hostile policies threatening immigrant communities. The youth were joined by about 20 Netflix and other tech company employees, who served as mentors and coaches throughout the three days.
Silicon Valley is an internationally known center for technology and innovation and serves as a major hub of economic growth and development. What is less known, however, is that tech is an industry that is reliant on immigrant labor. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs and tech engineers are immigrants. In addition, immigrant workers comprise the main workforce who clean the offices, maintain the grounds, provide security, prepare the food, take care of tech employees’ children and elderly relatives, and staff the other service sector jobs that support the tech companies.
Many Silicon Valley companies have invested resources to advocate for immigrant rights and to oppose the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration. Silicon Valley companies are also sensitive to their lack of Latino and African American employees, and many are seeking to expand recruitment efforts to underrepresented communities. The August hackathon was a great step forward in advancing a partnership between the tech world and immigrant communities.
This was the second hackathon sponsored by the UCLA DRC. In September 2017, a hackathon was held at CodeSmith in Venice, California, in partnership with UndocuMedia (an immigrant youth media company), FWD.us (an immigrant rights organization founded within the tech community) and others.
In 2016, the DRC also published a breakthrough research report, Immigrant Youth in the Silicon Valley: Together We Rise, which explores the obstacles young immigrants face when trying to access fair wages, housing and higher education in the area.
For the past three years, the DRC has sponsored the Dream Summer program in the Silicon Valley, placing immigrant youth in internships with education, immigrant rights, and social justice organizations in the area. Dream Summer fellows organized a successful conference at San Jose City College in August 2016 to promote educational access for immigrant students. In August 2017, Dream Summer fellows held a conference at the Univision headquarters in San Jose to address employment opportunities for immigrant youth.
The employee-sponsored Netflix hackathon was an inspiring and exciting event. On September 10, Netflix will host a reception to report on the hackathon to their employees, share a video with highlights and discuss next steps. Plans are already underway to hold another hackathon for immigrant youth in 2019.
Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies. He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union. He was the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and of the United Association for Labor Education and currently is vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.