As a practitioner of immigration law, Douglas Interiano (’08 B.A., Spanish) knows the complexities of the U.S. immigration system. But it is the UT Arlington graduate’s firsthand experience as an undocumented immigrant that motivates him to help thousands of families each year.
“I am a proud immigrant and a son of immigrant parents,” he says. “I know what it is like to be undocumented, to experience a lack of help while navigating a very difficult legal system.”
Interiano founded Proyecto Inmigrante ICS Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Dallas-Fort Worth that offers legal counseling, educational resources and translation services to individuals and families seeking a home in the United States. In 2014, he contacted his former Spanish professor, Alicia Rita Rueda-Acedo, director of UTA’s Spanish Translation and Interpreting program, which includes a focus on the translation of business and legal documents.
“When Douglas asked for our help with translation, my response was, ‘Yes!'” Rueda-Acedo said. “I am also an immigrant, a privileged one because I have always been documented. I cannot imagine how hard the process must be for those who are undocumented and not able to speak or write in English.”
From their first conversation, a substantial partnership formed. From 2014 to 2020, students in Rueda-Acedo’s Business and Legal Translation class donated more than 3,300 hours translating more than 3,000 documents, including birth, marriage, and death certificates; municipal letters; certificates of good conduct; provisional waivers; beneficiary letters; and medical records for submission to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In addition to the experience gained through coursework, many students have received internships with the organization, and a few have become full-time employees.
“Students receive professional work experience before graduation, adding lines to their résumés before entering the job market,” Rueda-Acedo said. “They are training for their careers and learning civic responsibility at the same time. The experience is very rewarding for everyone.”
Proyecto Inmigrante isn’t the only nonprofit that Rueda-Acedo’s students assist. Her Introduction to Translation course regularly translates documents for several regional organizations, including Mission Arlington, Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support, Grand Prairie Independent School District, Girls Inc., Tarrant County, and Greyson Crisis Center.
For many of the nonprofits’ clients, these translation services are life-changing.
“UTA students prevent our immigrant families from being taken advantage of,” Interiano said. “Most of our clients are not able to read or write in English, and a few have never learned to read or write in their native language.”
Fifteen years after its founding, Proyecto Inmigrante has served more than 100,000 families from more than 55 countries with the help of UTA students. As a law professional and CEO of his own organization, Interiano recalled his own journey to citizenship.
“I was able to get out of the shadows,” he said. “Now I am committed to serve, inform and represent low-income families. My only purpose is to help them navigate this complex system.”