Ahead of the looming July 26 deadline the federal government has to reunite some 2,500 immigrant children with their families — in the aftermath of a now-rescinded child-separation policy from the Trump administration — a South Jersey IT firm built a platform that could help.
ReUnite, created by Westmont N.J.-based Centerpoint Communications, is a system that, Chief Technology Officer Elliott Castillo says, would create a common database and toolset for administrators across organizations like the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to work uniformly towards reuniting families.
“It requires visual means of identification to make it accessible to children and non-English speakers,” Castillo said in an email. “Verification of parentage is left to the government-run facilities. It’s a responsive website that is only accessible through the VPN and requires additional strong credentials for the administrators at the facilities that will be using it.”
The way it works is by having parents and children seeking their parents register (or be registered, if too young) on a secure cloud-based system. A photo is taken. Parents then record a 30-second “greeting” video that would be shown to children and might help identify possible matches. Ultimately, verification of the match would be the work of the authorities.
Castillo, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated illegally into the U.S. during the 1970s, said ReUnite could be implemented today with no integration work required at detention centers and facilities.
All that’s missing, besides the acquisition of iPads for each of the 114 locations where migrant children are detained and paying for Centerpoint’s cloud costs, is the government saying yes.
“These are all separate locations,” Castillo said. “I’m providing a way to rebuild the database so that it’s a common system that all detention centers can use.”
Castillo said he’s working to connect with immigrant rights organizations like Texas-based RAICES to potentially help connect parents who have been released with the platform, if the government decides to deploy the solution.
But there’s concern among Philly immigration activists, like South Philly’s Juntos and New Sanctuary Movement, that new databases might be the last thing the government needs to have access to. The institutions have called for the City of Philadelphia to end their contract to share data from the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS) with ICE, over concerns that data from the system could be leading to more deportations (though this is contested by both the city and ICE).
Castillo, however, is adamant that the system his company built would purposefully avoid collecting additional identifying information like phone numbers and addresses for people on the database. It would instead rely on information the government already has, adding the layer of visual content to help generate matches.
“I don’t want to house identifying information about people because they could use this to incarcerate more people or deport them,” Castillo said. “But all these people have already been processed by the U.S. government. They already have data on them.”-30-
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