DACA Entrepreneur Gives Back, Offers Free Web Training

Ramiro Rodriguez is an ivy league-educated entrepreneur whose startup, the live-streaming company Riivet, recently graduated from a tech accelerator program to a company with a dozen steady clients. He is also an undocumented immigrant who owes his success to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. “If I hadn’t had DACA, I’d have been struggling to even open a bank account, not thinking about how to start a business or employ other people,” he says. Now Rodriguez is trying to give other young immigrants a hand up through Code the Dream, a nonprofit he co-founded that provides free computer programming and web development training. “I feel very lucky to have what I have, because I know not everyone in my situation gets that,” he says.

When Rodriguez was 9 years old, his mother brought him from their small central Mexican town to West Palm Beach, Florida. They didn’t have legal papers, but Rodriguez’s mother, determined to make things work out, supported them by sewing and cleaning. “She wanted a better opportunity — a better life for me, that would be conducive to studying and education,” Rodriguez recalls. Her gamble paid off: Rodriguez thrived in school, and won admission to study computer science and electronics at Cornell University. Crucially, the school had a need-blind admission’s policy, so even though Rodriguez didn’t qualify for loans or scholarships, he received grants for tuition and living expenses.

Rodriguez knows how lucky he was to get an education, so now he wants to help less fortunate immigrants. “A lot of them, even though they’re smart enough to go to college, don’t have a way to pay for it,” he says. “Code the Dream started as a way to give them another option.” About 50 people — mostly immigrants, although the course is open to any young minorities — have gone through the Code the Dream program since it launched in 2014. Students meet three times a week for 20 weeks and learn to master the basics of programming and web-app design. “I’ve seen nothing but positive response from the students,” Rodriguez says. “They’re very interested in learning about this, and for many of them it’s the only path they have.”

There are a lot of really good students that the United States is paying to educate, and who are graduating at the top of their class, but who then have no avenue forward.

Thanks to funding from Google, many of Code the Dream’s graduates are offered paid work building software and apps for nonprofits. Some have since secured full-time employment as software developers and coders for local businesses. “There are lots of people with ideas they’d like someone to develop, but there’s a shortage of people with those skills,” Rodriguez says. Immigrants are known for being entrepreneurial, he points out, and some of his students are already talking about starting companies of their own. North Carolina already has 48,000 immigrant entrepreneurs who combined generate $864 million in annual business income and employ about 121,000 people. “They aren’t the only ones who’ll benefit — the whole community will benefit,” Rodriguez says. “A rising tide brings all ships up.”

To make the most of that potential, Rodriguez says, reforms are needed to give young immigrants more security and a path to residency. “There are a lot of really good students that the United States is paying to educate, and who are graduating at the top of their class, but who then have no avenue forward,” he says. At Code the Dream, Rodriguez says he has seen  determined, good-hearted immigrants whom America should be proud to welcome as citizens. “They’re hard workers, and they’re good people — they’re trying to do what’s best for everyone, not just themselves,” he says. “They just want to do good in the world. I think that in fostering that, hopefully I’m giving a little bit back too.”

Yeah, it’s less about their ability and more about their commitment to doing so – the idea is both that admissions are made without reference to ability to pay, and that the school finds way to help people who need it once they’re admitted. Because it was need-blind, officials were basically mandated to find a way to fund him once he was admitted, even though he had few options for scholarships etc. I’ve smoothed out the language a bit – this clearer?

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…