OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

RAICES Global Sanctuary Network

RAICES Global Sanctuary connects displaced asylum-seekers with credible NGOs and legal services providers along the Texas-Mexico border.

Photo of Lily Cabrera
22 10

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

In January 2019, the Trump administration enacted the Remain in Mexico policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP program), which returns primarily Central American asylum seekers to border towns in Mexico for the duration of their asylum cases. These complex proceedings often take years to complete while migrants of severely limited means are forced to wait in increasingly unstable conditions. The situation is only going to become more dire as approximately 60,000 people are expected to be sent to Mexico via MPP in the next month. This means displaced people--without protected status, without work authorization, and without legal representation--are living in conditions that increase their vulnerability to violence and kidnapping, often for extended periods of time. Legal representation can increase the chance of a successful asylum claim fivefold, however, immigration attorneys face barriers to representing clients under MPP. Asylum seekers in Mexico are subject to moving from shelter to shelter (under duress and escaping gangs) and they do not always have consistent phone numbers or internet access. This directly impedes their ability to receive due process and leads to a catastrophic reduction in their likelihood of achieving asylum. The RAICES Global Sanctuary Network (RGSN) builds a bridge between displaced people intending to apply for asylum at the Southern border of the US and US-based immigration law and social service providers. People on the move (POTM) lack the orientation necessary to connect with credible, safe, and competent organizations and providers that can help advance their asylum claim. As such, RGSN will serve: 1) POTM on their way to the US, and 2) POTM under MPP in Mexico. Using community informed design, we will curate a resource guide, in collaboration with NGO and legal partners, and toolkit for migrant shelter networks on both sides of the border to better support POTM.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The RAICES Global Sanctuary will address displaced persons making the journey through Mexico to seek asylum at the Southern Border of the United States. We will launch the Sanctuary network through collaboration with NGOs and legal services providers along the Texas-Mexico border, with a particular focus on border/close to the border cities. These communities are of particular importance because of the level of vulnerability of POTM under MPP.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

RGSN builds bridges between displaced people intending to apply for asylum at the Southern border of the US and US-based immigration law and social service providers. The MPP policy threatens to cut off what little access refugees still have to claim asylum at the US/Mexico border. Whether an asylum applicant is ultimately able to succeed in their case is often determined by their ability to secure legal representation, a safe place to live, and a connection with a welcoming community.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

The lack of due process is a human rights violation against migrants. By further marginalizing POTM through MPP, migrants are pushed into the shadows and denied basic rights such as health care, housing, and education. They are exploited and afraid to seek help from authorities. RGSN goes beyond meeting basic needs to promote hope and dignity by returning self determination to POTM by connecting them with the knowledge that they need to understand their legal rights as asylum seekers and to advocate for themselves. We promote self empowerment from fostering POTM’s connection to resources that were originally built for them but that they can no longer readily access due to recent policy changes. By working with the communities of focus to understand their needs, developing a resource guide and a network of immigration legal services and social services providers, we put the knowledge back into their hands. This creates a bridge of opportunity for those who will come next.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

RGSN creates a hub to assemble diverse efforts into a holistic, connected, and wraparound experience that better facilitates POTM’s permanent resettlement in a location where they can be free from deprivation, harm, persecution and threat to their lives and abilities to achieve sustainable, healthy, productive and happy lives. We will identify providers of direct services to POTMs on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border and conduct a needs assessment, convene service providers from both sides of the border to build connections and community, and track legal and social outcomes of a cohort of program participants and compare them to published statistics on similar populations. Further, by providing training (informed by POTM experience) to our network of partners, we ensure that best practices, learned experience, and advancements in the provision of sanctuary services can be effectively integrated into the practices and procedures at every stage of displaced people’s journeys.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The Remain in Mexico policy and other anti-immigrant policies recently enacted by the US presidential administration have created a barrier between displaced people and communities and resources in the US. As a result, the experience of many POTM is equivalently or even more perilous post-departure when compared with the circumstances they escaped in their home countries. The outcome of many such experiences is humiliation, suffering, death, detention and/or deportation back to the original locus of harm. RAICES aims to curate resources, build a strong connected network, and get resources to the people that need them, thus restoring POTM’s sense of dignity and hope and providing them with safer passage.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

This idea seeks to reach people fleeing nations in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe who have traveled to the Texas/Mexico border with the intention of requesting asylum protection in the United States and who have been or may be enrolled in the MPP program. These individuals suffer poor access to basic resources, security, and connection with the local community. Completing the community are multiple NGOs offering services to asylum seekers/refugees on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border that each can provide one or more solutions to the many challenges faced by POTM. Due to the lack of information and orientation among POTM, and lack of coordination among service providers on both sides of the border, the power and resources within this larger community is unrealized. RGSN aims to harness available resources and enhance communication and collaboration. We will use the IDEO Community Research Toolkit as part of our planning process.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Strengths in the POTM community include courage, resilience, and family as a value. For organizations serving migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees on both sides of the border, we share a common mission. Our experience over the past decade with a succession of large refugee arrivals has resulted in internal plans and protocols that can be shared, adapted, and replicated. We can dovetail value by using existing/available resources (e.g., better connectivity and coordination between shelters in Mexico and legal service providers in the U.S. can add significant value with minimal investment). Further, the cities and towns in the border region have deep historic ties as bi-national communities, we can leverage those ties to bridge organizations across borders. NGOs and shelters on the Texas side of the border can connect with networks of similar service providers across the United States, thus serving as important hubs within a national system.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

RAICES provides direct services, in the form of legal representation, social services, and case management in Texas and, through a network of partner agencies, pro bono attorneys and volunteers, across the US. Through our work and the work of our partners, RAICES supports refugees and displaced people in their resettlement in the US. RAICES' work also brings it in colleague with organizations, shelters, community groups and individual volunteers across North America and Central America who each interacts with and assists our clients before, during and after their experience with U.S. immigration detention, the U.S. Immigration Courts and the U.S. Immigration Service. Current partners: Casa Misericordia, Laredo; Casa Marianela, Austin; City of Laredo. Future partners we hope to work with: Doctors Without Borders and Casa Indi, Monterrey.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

RAICES fights for the assurance of immigrants' human rights by defending and amplifying the voices of the most vulnerable immigrants, strengthening communities, and empowering individuals everywhere, every day. Founded in 1986 by community activists as the Refugee Aid Project, RAICES has grown to be the largest and one of the most significant immigration legal service providers in Texas. We have offices in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, and our pro bono network extends a longer reach. Lawyers are the first line of defense for migrants seeking asylum at the Southern border of the US. We have heard our clients and expanded our programming to include social services and advocacy. This puts us in a strong position to lead a network of NGO and legal service provider partners to address the unique needs of displaced people as they approach or as they manage their asylum cases under MPP.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

San Antonio, Texas

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

-What measures should we take/consider to ensure the safety of our clients and staff and reduce operational risk (operating in insecure conditions in border cities)? How can we best vet RGSN partners? - How can we best determine the correlation between access to RGSN and 1) those individuals matched with any service/connected to any NGO, and 2) those individuals granted asylum/successfully proceed? -As a US-based organization moving into doing international work and operating across multiple borders, what regulatory considerations should we be aware of during our due diligence process?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

During the Improve Phase we made use of all of the IDEO resources. Our project team connected with our assigned mentor, Pavel Corro, who has lived experience as a POTM, fleeing Venezuela and settling in Argentina. We shared information about RGSN and plans to address the crisis presented by the Remain in Mexico policy (MPP) to seek Pavel’s advice and feedback about the desirability of the concept and how well we could solve the problems of lack of information, lack of trusted/credible help, and insecure conditions for POTM under MPP at the US-Mexico border. Pav told us that he “fell in love with the idea.” He suggested harnessing the power of the phone, as not all POTM have access to onsite resources during their journeys, however most people have smartphones (allowing us to get help to people where they are). Pav also let us know that a small amount of information can go a long way in helping people. Although the chances of obtaining asylum remain very low, equipping POTM with basic information about the US asylum process increases their knowledge base and empowers them to advocate for themselves-especially important for vulnerable subsets of migrants (unaccompanied minors, pregnant women in the third trimester, the elderly, those with serious health issues, and LGBTQ). We received excellent expert feedback from Kevin Hartigan (vast experience with international relief) regarding setting up operations. He also advised us to work with UN service agencies (if available) to begin coordinating communication with other NGOs. Project lead, Jonathan Ryan, armed with this feedback and advice, visited a tent city on the Mexico-side of the border to see firsthand the plight of POTM under MPP. He learned that mealtimes are an important convening time for everyone in the camp. He also learned that the conditions are very bad, thousands of people are encamped on the road leading up to the border, and there is no on the ground presence to be seen from international NGOs.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds would be essential in pursuing the RGSN idea precisely because of the opportunity to be a part of a small cohort of organizations testing solutions and implementing ideas to help POTM. The funding would allow us to continue to effectively plan the project with the help and guidance of mentors, experts, and the IDEO community with the appropriate amount of flexibility in implementation. This funding and process accommodates experimentation and iteration, which are critical elements to meeting the need on the ground in a rapidly shifting policy environment. The 36 month implementation period is unique in comparison to other funding opportunities because the structure gives us the ability to plan, test, rapid prototype, and iterate our idea for a specific community with the aim of adapting the model and scaling to meet the greater global challenge for POTM.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds would primarily support increasing RAICES’ capacity via dedicated staff time, travel for program staff, the development of new communication tools and coordination mechanisms, and operational expenses to expand into cross-border, international operations. Funding would allow us to build a network of interconnected NGOs and to leverage volunteers (ranging from pro bono attorneys to advocates to people just wanting to help) to meet the urgent need on the ground in border cities and encampments along the US-Mexico border. Grant funds would support prototyping and testing, and would provide support for initial implementation and coordination with RGSN partners. We expect that these aspects represent about 20 to 30 percent of overall project expenses (over a period of three years).

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

Year 1 key steps include registering as a foreign nonprofit conducting operations in Mexico and addressing any regulatory and insurance related filings, establishing a presence on the ground to provide consultations, developing strong relationships with Mexican civil society organizations, NGOs, and local stakeholders on both sides of the border, beginning to calibrate capacity to meet the demand, hiring and onboarding new staff, developing new modes of assistance specific to populations under MPP. Year 2 activities will include continuing to assess the model and services provided to iterate and innovate based on needs (including applying learning to create technology enabled solutions). We will explore replicating the model to other encampments and border cities. In Year 3, we will use this work to inform new policy and protocols for POTM, including moving from defensive to affirmative plans for people newly arriving to the border who have not yet presented themselves to claim asylum.

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Impact: By 2022, RGSN will be replicated across Central and North America and directly serving at least 25 percent of the estimated 300,000+ people from NTCA countries expected to experience displacement due to the concurrent crises of pervasive gang violence, exploitation and trafficking, and climate change. Measurement: We will track the number of unique individuals served through Know Your Rights presentations and individual counsel and advice, and we will also seek to track and measure the unique individuals served via new communication tools (e.g., WhatsApp, etc.) that will be developed as part of this project. We will survey a sample of the individuals served to understand how assistance impacted them, using qualitative and quantitative measures (e.g., satisfaction, time to complete asylum case). Question: How can we use lessons learned in implementing RGSN on the US-Mexico border to adapt the model and scale to additional rapid response situations for refugees and immigrants?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Further, the project be supported by RAICES' digital team, consisting of three software developers, a senior product owner, and our Chief Technology Officer, Brendan Colthurst. Brendan has over 19 years of software development experience, from founding start-ups to agency work to consulting. He's led agile-scrum teams that built high-profile software for IBM, Xerox, and Macy's. RAICES Digital uses agile/scrum methodologies, continuous integration, iterative development, and user-centric design.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

The feedback that we received was formative. Our mentor’s input confirmed that having a technology enabled solution would be beneficial in reaching more POTM. Post-mentor call, our project team decided that we would develop and test the intervention with staff resources first (people on the ground), and use what we learn to inform a rapid response texting framework (using software bots) to scale. We are exploring tech solution options. Also, after speaking with our mentor, it was apparent that an on-the-ground fact finding mission was necessary. Our CEO traveled to Matamoros with a local (Brownsville, TX) immigration attorney and advocate to volunteer and speak with people at the border. The trip revealed the lack of a coordinated effort for NTCA migrants living in precarious conditions. Following expert feedback, we connected with a partner NGO and learned more about the official response. From this conversation, we have a better sense of where RGSN can step in to help.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sevde Şengün

Hello Lily Cabrera , great to see updates of your idea, and the insights that helped refine the idea during improve phase. I like that you attached Business Model Canvas and timeline of the key activities for the next 3 years as well as where the funding from the challenge would go towards.
Could you outline, in an estimate, the budget for each of the items and potentially the total budget for the activities?
best of luck for evaluation !

Photo of Lily Cabrera

Hi Sevde ┼×engün ! Thank you for your note.

Here is our estimate (over three years):
Personnel: %FTE and new hires (including fringe): $1.45 million (once fully staffed)
Travel: $15,000
Tech development: $25,000
Materials/Supplies/Printing: $11,500
Convenings (RGSN network): ~$15k
Indirect Costs: 10%
Total: ~$1.3-$1.7 millon

GHR Foundation/BridgeBuilder Funds would represent ~11-15% of the project budget, and approximately 25-30% of the start up funding needed. The project budget estimate is positioned to scale up or scale down based on resources available.

View all comments