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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:00:13 PM CST

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Easy-to-use immigration website in progress at DePaul

by Lauren M. Davis
Jun 6, 2013

Jairo Morales

Lauren Davis/MEDILL

 Jairo Morales, 16, says he often translates and interprets for his parents. There are many teens and children like him, says Krista Peterson, graduate student at DePaul.

When Krista Peterson was applying for a scholarship for graduate school at DePaul, she said she had no idea where her application essay would eventually lead her.

Her essay, she said, about school-aged children who help their non-English speaking parents complete important immigration documents, earned her the scholarship and also a real opportunity to help these families.

Peterson, a few colleagues, and lawyers at DePaul are now working on a simple, easy-to-use website that she said will be a resource for families seeking help with their immigration concerns.

Peterson said she developed the idea while teaching in Little Village and also volunteering at the Chicago Youth Boxing Club. There she met children, many times the only English speakers in their families who, Peterson said, were left with challenging responsibilities.

“Kids ended up translating all kinds of documents … because the resources for the parents to find somebody who could interpret or translate for them weren’t available,” Peterson said.

She said that children would sometimes come to her and ask for help saying, “My mom asked me to fill out this form and I don’t know what this is.”

“It was this big hurdle,” she said.

Jairo Morales, 16, who is a member of the boxing club where Peterson volunteered, said he has translated and interpreted for his parents since he was in the fifth or six grade.

He said he helped his parents fill out their residency applications and also their work documents.

“It was frustrating because I had to do everything,” Morales said. “I needed help in some of the stuff but I searched it up.”

Morales said he did a Google search for what he didn’t know and he left some answers blank until he and his parents turned in the forms and he could ask for clarification.

A lawyer and university ombudsperson at DePaul said he has personally represented immigrants where the children came in as translators for the family.

Craig Mousin, founder of Midwest Immigrant Rights Center of Travelers & Immigrants Aid, said this is one of the reasons he, and other lawyers at DePaul are working with Peterson and her colleagues to create helpful content for the website.

The website, still in early development, will be created specifically for one group of high school students and their families, Mousin said.

“By saying it’s for a high school we’re really saying it’s for the community that’s involved in that high school, so certainly children have parents, have uncles, have grandparents who have a variety of immigrant legal needs, ” he said.

High school students sometimes have questions about deferred action for students, he said, or have the best English skills in their families and have better access to web-based information.

The number one question, Mousin said, his team hopes to answer through their site is “Where are the resources?”

“Very few people can navigate this by themselves,” he said

The site, which will now be specifically for Gordon Tech College Prep in Irving Park, will provide a list of people who can offer legal assistance, include advice about state or federal provisions and benefits that might be available without jeopardizing the statuses of immigrants and also tell them where to find more information.

Kelly Jones, president of Gordon Tech, said the website is important for the Chicago community.

“Many of our students, while not impacted by the situation personally, have family members or friends who are, Jones said. “I think it is a great and important project that Gordon students can not only learn from but also help support the community's needs around us.”

A lawyer who practices in the Loop said she thinks the development of the website is a good idea.

“I don’t think there is a website like that right now that says ‘hey these are the resources that are available to you,’ ” said Azita M. Mojarad of Azita M Mojarad & Associates.

Peterson, who is getting her degree in human-computer interaction, said she is working on completing preliminary research and hopes to produce a nonworking prototype this summer.

Peterson said her team is still unsure how much it will cost or how much funding they will be able to raise.

The goal is to complete a website for both desktop and mobile that is ready for use next spring, she said. She said she hopes to expand the website to more people once it’s successful and translate it into more than one language.

I’m really excited about it, she said.