Immigration (Re)Forms

February 27, 2014—There’s only one thing that is certain to come out of any immigration reform, say alumnus Felice Gorordo (C’05): more paperwork. Gorordo is heading a company that wants to streamline the application process for the average immigrant.

Gorordo is the new CEO of Clearpath, which offers a low-cost online solution for individuals filing U.S. immigration forms. The son of Cuban immigrants, Gorordo has been a long-time advocate for immigration reform. He worked at the White House and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2006 and 2007, when the last major push for reform unraveled. When he returned to public service—this time under the Obama administration—as a White House fellow, immigration reform was the hot topic yet again.

“When I was leaving the White House [fellows program], I really wanted to be a part of something transformative,” Gorordo, who majored in government, said. He found that opportunity at Clearpath. “This [was] a unique opportunity for me to work on something that I’m passionate about and that I feel could be a real game changer,” he continued.

Like software that helps people do their taxes, Clearpath’s system is a “rules-based engine that empower[s] the individual immigrant to be able to fill out their paperwork themselves,” Gorordo explained. “[Our system] helps users identify what benefits they are eligible for and the necessary paperwork they would need.”

The immigration filing process is “overly cumbersome and overly costly for the average immigrant,” Gorordo said. Clearpath costs a fraction of an immigration attorney, though the majority of applicants don’t use attorneys. Nearly 70 percent of the forms received by USCIS are filed by individuals. This group is “choosing to do it themselves because either they don’t have the means to hire an attorney or are above the threshold to be eligible for a fee waiver or pro bono services,” he explained.

But this group is also susceptible to “notarios” and would-be scammers. “These people are preying on a community that’s desperate, and I’ve seen it firsthand,” he said. “In Latin America, a notario is the equivalent of almost an attorney, [and is] a very prestigious profession. Folks here get a notary public certification and sell themselves as a notario to the immigrant community,” he explained.

Notarios, who can often be seen waiting outside of U.S. detention centers, typically offer to manage an immigration case in a few days for a few thousand dollars. The notario typically disappears with the money, Gorordo says, without filing any forms or potentially ruining an individual’s immigration case.

“This is one of the reasons we are doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We want to be an affordable, secure, and simple solution for people who want to do this themselves.”

Clearpath also wants to ensure that complicated cases are sent to reputable attorneys rather than scammers. When the system flags a case that requires an attorney, Clearpath refers applicants to the American Immigration Lawyers Association or a community-based organization that provides pro bono and discounted services.

Gorordo hopes that Clearpath can help individuals whose cases would likely be rejected based on simple errors. USCIS receives 100 million forms ever year. “There’s a 40 percent rejection rate across the board,” he said. After working at USCIS, Gorordo knows that many of those rejections are due to mistakes on applications. Clearpath’s software can catch common mistakes early in the process in order to reduce the probability of a rejection or longer wait time.

“This is a lot of paper, and the [USCIS] system itself is overtaxed and understaffed,” he said. “With immigration reform this year or next, this is only going to increase.” According to Gorordo, more than 11–12 million people could come “out of the shadows” after immigration reform. “It’s going to be all the more complicated. We need more solutions,” he continued.

And while Clearpath may be leveraging technology to streamline immigration applications, Gorordo is committed to humanizing the process. “We recognize that these are high-anxiety decisions—whether you can stay in the country with your loved ones or whether or not you’re able to take the next step in your career,” he said.

“This is not about paperwork; it’s about people’s lives.”

—Elizabeth Wilson