“Navegando Austin”: A community effort to provide resources for immigrants in Austin

Tehreem Shahab

While brainstorming ideas with UT-Austin’s social work students and doing research, UT alumna Ana Hernandez realized people in the immigrant community often struggled to access resources such as healthcare or legal services.  

So in spring 2017, Hernandez coordinated with social work students and University Leadership Initiative, a UT group which advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrants, to create a website called Navegando Austin. A few months later, the website was launched, listing resources such as legal, financial, healthcare and mental health services in English and Spanish.

Hernandez, Navegando Austin’s project coordinator, said one of the obstacles immigrants face includes lacking a social security number. 

“There’s also residency requirements and other things that are tied to that same social security number … so if you don’t have a social security number or you don’t have a work permit, it can create barriers,” said Hernandez who graduated from UT with a master’s in social work and Latin American studies.

Other barriers include fear of being discriminated because of their status, language barriers and using transportation.

“People either don’t fully realize what they’re able to access or they find that they called 10 different places … and for some reason they are unable to get to that resource, and that can be a frustrating process,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said these resources have been vetted to ensure they serve undocumented individuals. 

“We called agencies, we looked on websites and sometimes we would go to the agency itself,” Hernandez said. “We made sure they were accessible to undocumented folks, so you don’t have to have a social security number or a work permit to access them. We also asked about language access, if they had bilingual service providers, and we also looked to make sure we had the most updated information for that service.” 

Hernandez said Navegando Austin is currently not a funded project and exists because of contributors from UT, St. Edward’s University and Austin Community College. 

ULI member Estefania Ponce, an American Sign Language sophomore at ACC, said she primarily worked on obtaining reliable resources for the website. 

“To me (the website) means access, it means opportunity,” Ponce said. “It allows the community to be what I like to call ‘gatekeepers’ … It’s a chance for us to share with each other knowledge.”

 Maya Guevara, Latin American studies senior, said she had a supporting role in the project through ULI and contributed through research. Guevara said she hopes more people will contribute.  

“I want to stress what a communal effort this project was,” Guevara said. “It was put on by individuals that felt very passionately and we were all from different organizations. I really hope that as people learn about it they find it useful and they reach out to us with resources we may have missed or ideas to expand the project.”

Anyone can contribute by emailing names of resources to  [email protected]