FWD.us to lead expanded line of work, hires criminal justice reform expert

Posted by FWD.us Press on 09/19/2017

FWD.us is continuing to deepen its commitment to criminal justice reform, and today is announcing the hiring of Zoë Towns, former Criminal Justice Project Director at The Pew Charitable Trusts, as its new Senior Criminal Justice Reform Director. Zoë’s record of developing and implementing successful reform strategies in states across the country will be integral to shaping how the organization achieves meaningful policy impact on this critical issue.

Prior to FWD.us, Zoë oversaw statewide reform initiatives in Oregon, Mississippi, Utah, Maryland, Alaska, and Louisiana for The Pew Charitable Trusts. There, she collaborated with elected officials, administrators, practitioners, and advocates to forge consensus policy solutions, build diverse coalitions, and advance comprehensive pretrial, sentencing, and corrections legislative reforms. Earlier in her career, she helped pilot and then direct The Bronx Freedom Fund, a community bail fund in the South Bronx.

“We are excited to welcome Zoë Towns to lead our criminal justice reform work. Her record of balancing policy expertise with political practicality to get impactful reforms through in red and blue states alike will be fundamental as we shape this line of work. With her help, our plan is to chase big, audacious goals in coalition with policymakers and constituencies from across the political spectrum,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte.

FWD.us will focus its criminal justice reform work on 1) safely reducing the number of people incarcerated, 2) shrinking the criminal justice system, and 3) creating opportunities for the tens of millions of people who have been incarcerated or who have criminal records. At the same time, we are also redoubling our efforts around immigration reform, including increasing engagement with members on both sides of the aisle and organizing hundreds of business leaders, as well as hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country, to send a clear message to Congress that the time for a Dream Act is now.

FWD.us is launching a long-term criminal justice reform initiative

Posted by Todd Schulte on 09/19/2017

Over the last year, we are proud to have engaged in a handful of criminal justice reform efforts in California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and North Carolina. We assisted in these efforts because they presented a real opportunity for policy improvements, notably to safely reducing the number of people incarcerated, shrink the criminal justice system, and create opportunities for the tens of millions of people who have been incarcerated or who have criminal records. We also wanted to learn more about how the criminal justice system works and to engage with those already doing the work to reform it. Here’s what we took away.

Our criminal justice system is fundamentally broken. America’s criminal justice system locks too many people up for far too long, and locks too many people out of achieving their full potential. Our current criminal justice system does not deliver us more safety or more opportunity while doing substantial harm to communities and families, especially to communities of color, and incurring substantial cost at the local, state, and federal level. Rather, it undermines the promise of who we can and should be.  

But there’s hope. We believe it’s important to identify bipartisan opportunities to find practical solutions to big problems. We’re excited that this is happening in states as different as California, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. In these places and elsewhere, broad bipartisan coalitions – conservatives and progressives, law enforcement professionals and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, elected officials and crime survivors, business groups and faith leaders – are coming together to improve their criminal justice systems.

We can and want to help. At FWD.us, we combine grassroots organizing on both sides of the aisle, policy expertise, and political savvy to broaden and amplify stakeholder coalitions, to elevate the voices of people directly impacted, and to get the right information to the right policymakers in the right moments. We want to bring those same strategies to bear to advance our criminal justice goals, which include: 1) safely reducing the number of people incarcerated, 2) shrinking the criminal justice system, and 3) creating opportunities for the tens of millions of people who have been incarcerated or who have criminal records. We want to drive change grounded in the input of people who are directly impacted by the system, and in the data about what works.

We are excited to welcome Zoë Towns to lead our criminal justice reform work as we deepen our efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Her record of balancing policy expertise with political practicality to get impactful reforms through in red and blue states alike is exactly the kind of leadership we need to shape this new line of work. With her help, our plan is to chase big, audacious goals in a small number of states in coalition with policymakers and constituencies across the political spectrum.

The work ahead is as hard as it is necessary. In our short exploration into criminal justice reform, we have seen excellent policy reforms win the day and we have seen others stall. But we’re not afraid of a tough fight. Winning will mean bringing together legislative, electoral, research, cultural, and communications strategies. It will mean working alongside the highly sophisticated network of criminal justice reformers already hard at work.  

Of course, we won’t let up even for a second on our urgent fight to pass a Dream Act and to achieve commonsense immigration reform. With the support and guidance of our founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Priscilla Chan and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, FWD.us is continuing to grow into a multi-issue organization.  At the same time, we are also redoubling our efforts around immigration reform, including increasing engagement with members on both sides of the aisle and organizing hundreds of business leaders, as well as helping to engage hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country, to send a clear message to Congress that the time for a Dream Act is now.

We will bring the same dedication and fervor to criminal justice reform as we have committed to immigration reform.

FWD.us Joins “The DACA Renewal Fund” to Support DACA Recipients Under Threat, Urges Congress to Pass Permanent Legislative Solution

Posted by FWD.us Press on 09/14/2017

WASHINGTON, DC – FWD.us today is proud to announce we are partnering with  United We Dream, and other advocacy organizations in committing resources to the DACA Renewal Fund,  an urgent effort to support DACA recipients renewal application fees. The Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA in 6 months has forced more than 150,000 immigrant youth whose DACA status expires between now and March 5th of 2018 to file to renew their DACA status before October 5th, 2017 deadline. This process is urgent, complicated, and expensive – applicants must submit $495 fee along with their renewal applications.  For many DACA recipients who are students or low wage workers who often spend months saving up to pay for these fees, that is an extraordinary and unexpected expense.

“We’re proud to support the DACA Renewal Fund, which will support young people who need to quickly file their renewals by October 5th with resources to help cover the costs of the application,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “While we continue our work to urge Congress in the strongest possible terms to pass bipartisan legislation that will protect Dreamers from deportation, we are excited to be part of this effort, and we encourage others to join us to stand up for Dreamers who are contributing to our communities and our economy every day.”

The DACA Renewal Fund enjoys support from advocacy organizations across the country that are committed to fighting for nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who live in every state and the District of Columbia. These hardworking Dreamers, most of whom know only the U.S. as home and who came to the country at a young age, already live, work, study in, and contribute immeasurably to our communities. In addition to the staggering moral cost of deporting Dreamers, removing nearly 800,000 individuals from the workforce would cost the U.S. economy more than $460 billion in lost GDP over a decade.  We continue to urge Congress to immediately pass the bipartisan Dream Act that would allow Dreamers to continue to live, work and contribute to the only country most have ever known.

For more information, or to donate to The Renewal Fund, click here.

DACA Recipients, Allies Band Together in Los Angeles for Country’s First-ever Immigrant Youth-led Hackathon

Posted by Fwd.us Press on 09/13/2017

Dozens of Dreamers Came Together Over 36 Hours to Build Tools and Apps to Empower, Encourage Immigrants and Americans Impacted by the U.S.’ Broken Immigration System

LOS ANGELES, CA – This weekend, roughly 40 Dreamers from across the United States convened in Los Angeles for the country’s first-ever immigrant youth-led hackathon, just days after President Trump decided to end the DACA program. Called “UndocuHacks 2017,” the event brought together professionals in the tech industry, community leaders, advocates, and others personally affected by immigration policies for 36 hours of consecutive hacking to develop digital tools for protection, education, and organizing.

Participants helped create tools to address our country’s broken immigration system, assist with deportation defense and fuel rapid response efforts, and devised ways to make health services more accessible to the immigrant community. Among the tools created were an app to connect volunteers with immigration-servicing organizations and an app to help with DACA renewals. Another team also created a tool to connect immigrants to educational scholarships, legal aid and health aid.

The hackathon was intended to provide an opportunity for attendees to share their skills and develop technology tools of protection, education, healing, and empowerment. Sixteen mentors — all entrepreneurs, tech leaders or angel investors — were also on site to provide assistance and support every step of the way to help bring developed ideas into reality.

The hackathon was held just days after President Trump decided to eliminate the DACA program, which will cost the United States $460 billion in GDP loss over the next decade and comes with far-reaching moral consequences. No new DACA applications are being accepted, but DACA recipients whose renewals expire on or before March 5 can submit renewal applications through October 5.

The hackathon was sponsored by UndocuMedia, FWD.us, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), Mi Mentor, UCLA Dream Resource Center, Techqueria, Codesmith, SUBB and Enplug.

Participant quotes include:

“I am enormously grateful for the impact DACA beneficiaries and undocumented youth have made in my own life and to the U.S. economy. Dreamers start businesses at twice the rate of the public as a whole, add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and deserve the political support to let them continue this remarkable contribution. Congress needs to act quickly and pass a Dream Act to allow these young people to contribute to this country permanently. ” — Will Sentance, Founder and CEO, Codesmith

“UndocuHacks2017 is intended to bring people from the tech industry, leaders in the undocumented community and allies together to create technology tools of empowerment, resistance and healing for the rest of the immigrant population, particularly at a time when immigrants are being attacked. We must be proactive in leveraging technology to protect the most vulnerable population and to demonstrate that we have the power to change the status quo, and to look after each other.” — Justino Mora, Co-Founder, UndocuMedia

“UndocuHacks was intended to help participants, predominantly DACA recipients, utilize their tech skills to help advance the fight for common sense immigration reform. Our goal was to bring together the most talented designers, developers and programmers from around the country to find solutions to some of our country’s most pressing immigration issues. By the end of the weekend, we developed projects that will continue to help us defend, protect and support all immigrants, regardless of national origin and status.” — Giancarla Rojas-Mendoza, University Program Associate, FWD.us

“In such a critical time as now, it is important that immigrant youth be at the forefront of developing solutions that address issues impacting immigrant youth and the broader immigrant community. We must work collectively to protect, empower, and achieve justice for our immigrant community.” — Diego Sepúlveda, Interim Director, Dream Resource Center at UCLA Labor Center

“UndocuHacks 2017 is an opportunity to unite with the undocumented community, and help it defend itself and be empowered at a time when we are facing an onslaught of attacks. I’m happy to be here to represent the undocu-trans community and the undocu-queer community, and to connect and heal with other undocumented individuals from around the country. UndocuHacks is a foundation of a new tech strategy toward immigrant rights that has never been done before, and will help us prepare for the obstacles we are facing now and will face decades on.” — Ximena Ospina Vargas, DACA recipient, hackathon participant and student at Columbia University

“I came to the United States from Portugal at the age of 10 months. My parents were entrepreneurial and came to start a business in pursuit of the American Dream. The work authorization I earned through DACA gave me the opportunity to help my parents purchase a family home and help build the family business. Without DACA or a Dream Act to protect me from deportation, I’m much more uncertain about my future. There are 800,000 human lives at stake, and ending DACA is both a moral crisis and economic crisis.” — Rodrigo Pimentel, DACA recipient and hackathon participant

“For me, the immigration reform movement is personal. As someone who has close family and friends who are directly impacted by our broken immigration system, I cannot afford to stand on the sidelines. UndocuHacks is an opportunity for us to not only connect folks who are already participating in the immigration movement, but to bring in new voices who can help us get across the finish line. Now, more than ever, we need Congress to come together and finally pass a permanent legislative solution that Dreamers and their families so desperately need. I encourage all my peers in the tech community to join us in this fight. ” — Jesus Loya, mentor and entrepreneur