Partner story

Q&A with Just Futures Law's Paromita Shah

Over the years, our US grantees have had to be agile, courageous, intersectional, and collaborative to continually build new opportunities and futures for people fighting against oppressive and racist systems.  As we wind down our domestic work in the US by the end of 2023, we've asked our partners to share, in their own words, their plans for the future, learnings from the field, and how funders can support their continued progress fighting for social justice and equity.

By Paromita Shah, CEO of Just Futures Law

1. What does Just Futures Law do?

Just Futures Law (JFL) is a women-of-color led legal organization working in deep partnership with immigrant and racial justice grassroots organizations in the United States to end criminalization, deportation, and surveillance. JFL emerged to provide innovative legal support as true partners to grassroots groups and organizers when they called for a new form of partnership, where legal strategy helps build movement power in Black and Brown communities. As experienced legal strategists, we sit in as one part of a larger organizing vision led by impacted people and grassroots. One of our priorities is to expose how data technologies are being used to supercharge incarceration, deportation, and surveillance of Black and Brown immigrants and activists. We are working in partnership with grassroots organizers to create effective and bold ideas to regain community control over data and to design and implement strategies to end unaccountable data harvesting, buying, and sharing.

2. What are the greatest lessons you've learned over the past two years?

When JFL began working on tech and surveillance in 2019, the connections between surveillance technology and immigration enforcement were just beginning to surface. Few knew of the role that high-profile tech companies like Amazon, Palantir, Clearview AI, and LexisNexis played in providing technology directly to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and police. Since then, our policy advocacy, research, litigation, and partnerships with local and national organizing groups have helped expose Silicon Valley as a key player in immigration enforcement, deportation, and abusive criminalization. We discovered police and DHS use surveillance tactics and tech in retaliation against immigrants' rights movement leaders. Our legal research shows our laws and policies don’t prevent the extraction of data for deportation, policing, and profit. In short, we now have evidence of a massive, militarized, and profitable technological surveillance machine being deployed against Black and Brown communities that is a threat to their well-being, democracy, and self-determination

Peeling back the secrecy has been difficult for us and our partners, but what we have uncovered so far is chilling and shows a disturbing lack of accountability and care for communities most impacted by policing and/or immigration enforcement. State and federal governments are buying billions of dollars of tech, everything from drones, face scans, and financial data, to e-carceration apps, DNA collectors, and a “deadly digital border wall (complete with robot dogs.)  Many of these extractive products are being designed or supported by business leaders with troubling ties to white supremacy and xenophobia. We have learned the importance of sharing deeply dystopic, technical information in a way that is useful to organizers and their campaigns. We’ve also learned that substantial resources must go into fighting disturbing tactics by DHS, the police, and corporations, all of whom are invested in this invasive technology, data harvesting, and the extremely profitable data sharing that follows.

Success for tech reform depends on organized communities. Over the last two years, we have been privileged and excited to build with a broader bench of tech advocates that anchor their organizing and advocacy in the fights against racial injustice, immigration enforcement, and policing. We have seen that advocacy ecosystems that uplift organizing, like #noTechforICE, create better policies, open up new avenues for advocacy, and build scaffolding for future organizing and policy wins in the tech sector. 

3. What opportunities do you see on the horizon and what are your plans for the future?

The immigrant rights’ movement is beginning to understand that tech companies and data brokers are the backbone of the immigration deportation and criminalization systems.  Law enforcement retaliation against racial justice and immigrants’ rights protesters are at the forefront of national discourse, and the public has witnessed the danger of unfettered government and corporate power on political participation. Government leaders are beginning to question whether technologies exacerbate abuse in our immigration and criminal legal systems, and they’re starting to see the need to re-examine tech’s role in disinformation, racism, misogyny, political polarization, and wealth inequality. 

Building on our track record of federal and local victories, JFL will continue to support organizing and campaigns with legal and advocacy tools aimed at winning seminal victories and re-shaping the integrity of protections provided to all residents, regardless of immigration status.  There is still so much to uncover so communities understand the stakes.  We believe it is critical to engage in a long term testing phase with grassroots on litigation, deep technical assistance , policy research, and advocacy design as we work to implement victories and overcome failures at the local and federal level. We aim to reduce the use of harmful surveillance technologies through federal, state, and local policies and to build power with racial justice groups, immigrants’ rights activists, and tech watchdog groups. We believe state and local policies offer immediate life-saving pathways to justice as well as an important opportunity for experimentation and innovation with new legal and organizing tactics. 

4. How can funders support you right now?

JFL needs multi-year general support to grow the full-time team and add critical project-based capacity. We are on the cusp of discovering new community-forward data models that will limit the expansion of surveillance, halt commodification of meta-data, and shift public monies away from technologies that hurt communities of color. We see possibilities of attracting new allies and changing narratives about the role data plays in the lives of Black and Brown communities. 

The issues of criminalization, deportation, and incarceration are not five-year plans. The fight for justice and accountability begins by accepting the fact that the data economy is a complex and vast enterprise.  The JFL team brings experience, creativity, and stamina to a new organization that is not new to movement-building work. To institute principles of equity, dignity, and justice in the data economy and build power within our movement, we need multi-year general support funds. 

Read more Q&As with leaders of our US portfolio who are working to move the country toward justice in small and big ways.