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Photography: Catherine Lim

In early 2015, while design students at the University of Washington, we and our classmate Tyler Monteferrante watched a Democracy Now interview of Maru Mora Villalpando, a local activist who has been fighting for immigrant communities for two decades, despite her own undocumented status. From physically blocking busses leaving the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma to organizing for farmworker labor rights, she has helped build a community-based resistance involving several organizations, including Latino Advocacy and NWDC Resistance. Moved by Villalpando’s work, the three of us emailed her and soon began our collaboration to create Archivo, a toolkit to help undocumented immigrants collect and organize important personal documents.

The initial version of Archivo was a guide for applicants of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program for undocumented youth who came to the US as children. DACA provides two years of protection from deportation and permission to work legally. These protections aim to keep families of mixed immigration status together and improve access to fair and safe work opportunities.

DACA applicants must prove their continued presence in the US over at least nine years through photocopies of documents, such as education and medical records, pay stubs, receipts, tax returns, and bills. To provide guidance for collecting what can amount to hundreds of documents, Archivo comes with 1. a case for documents 2. a booklet explaining deferred action and how to collect relevant documents 3. a worksheet to keep an inventory of documents collected, and 4. file folders to separate documents by year. With grant funding, we produced 2,000 kits in July 2016 and have been distributing them through community workshops in Washington, Oregon, California, Tennessee, and Illinois.


Through our work on Archivo, we have joined a resilient local movement for migrant and racial justice, learning to approach design differently than we do in our day jobs as interaction designers. In contrast to design school training that values perfectionism, we prioritized alignment with distributed organizing strategies and a responsiveness to constantly changing policies and law enforcement practices.

Multiple changes to immigration programs have affected Archivo’s budget, timeline, and final design in ways that would have been difficult to plan for upfront while simultaneously moving the project forward. For instance, we initially included information about DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), but the program was never implemented after Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration was blocked. As Archivo’s design evolved, we learned that laboring over details wasn’t an efficient or cost-effective approach, as we needed to be prepared to make updates with each court decision and the elections.  

We realized that for future design decisions, we would prioritize information generalizable to undocumented people despite changes to policy or policing, and in contrast to the conventions of project-based design work, we should approach Archivo as an ongoing engagement. The future of DACA is uncertain under the Trump administration, so we’ve added material describing how to use Archivo to gather evidence of one’s continued residence, education, and employment in the US. These are useful for other legal and emergency situations. For example, the Department of Homeland Security memos released in February authorized the expedited deportation of undocumented immigrants who cannot prove their continued presence in the US for the previous two years.


As part of a grassroots effort, Archivo’s utility hinges on what is not visible: the organizing strategies of our collaborators. Despite an increase of fear since the presidential election and the recent spate of raids at homes and workplaces, this fight is not new for undocumented people in our communities. While we continue to distribute Archivo kits, it is under a new strategy to equip undocumented people with tools to organize their own meetings. It is through these truly grassroots gatherings that community members can distribute knowledge about individual constitutional rights and share resources to help families make financial and legal preparations in the event that a family member is detained.

Through workshops organized by Villalpando and other immigration activists, we have visited schools, churches, and community centers throughout Washington state to distribute hundreds of Archivo kits directly to community members. We have met students, farmworkers, lawyers, and organizers. People bring vibrancy to the meetings through humor, homemade pozole, dance instruction, and even Guatemalan history lessons. These experiences have shifted how we see our own roles, from designers offering a service to participants of a collective effort in which each person brings a unique skill or resource. From this perspective, we see a growing movement of resistance as our work continues.