Increase in demand for undocumented student legal services

VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE FILE

While DACA hangs in limbo, some UC community members seek support

During the 2016-2017 academic year, there were an estimated 800 cases of students seeking legal immigration assistance from the California Immigrant Legal Services Center housed in the UC Davis School of Law in King Hall –– more than double the 362 cases from the previous year.

Rachel Ray, the Northern California managing lawyer for the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, spoke about the burden of federal government laws on undocumented students becoming citizens. The UC Immigrant Legal Services Center represents the entire UC system except for Berkeley, which has an on-campus student immigrant legal clinic.

Ray said that the current legal and political atmosphere has a consequential impact on undocumented UC students. Pertaining to the climate of immigrant relations, Ray said she has witnessed a downtrend in government-sponsored immigrant assistance, forcing the need for more public and nonprofit institutions like the UC center as well as private practitioners who assist with such cases.

“In commenting on the change of tone between the summer of 2016 and now, there’s just a lot more anxiety and fear,” Ray said. “Something different happens every week that more likely than not negatively affects immigrants. It’s just a constant barrage — if it’s not terrible news, it’s less than ideal news. There’s certainly changes in the way I see the government adjudicating petitions and handling even just something as simple as immigration forms.”   

Within UC Immigrant Legal Services, the cases of undocumented immigrant students are taken on at a higher rate than those of international students, whom the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center represents. Ray said the majority of her clients are undocumented domestic students, not international students who may be affected by the federal travel ban. The higher caseload this year is partially due to an expansion in the number of staffed lawyers.

“We have more attorneys on staff now than we had the previous year,” Ray said. “I think, yes, after the election, we did see an increase in individuals who were interested in accessing our services, and certainly [from] individuals who hadn’t thought about our services prior to the election.”

Ray stated that the center is unique because it serves students as well as their immigrant family members. She also emphasized the power and importance of a support network for undocumented student.

“We have funding to serve not just students, but [also] their family members,” Ray said. “There are no nonprofit immigration legal service providers in Davis with the exception of us. I think, especially these days, every immigrant legal service provider is definitely all in this together. We work very collaboratively, and we tend to work closely with other private practitioners in the area.”

Ray also spoke about the number of undocumented students within the UC system and at Davis. There are an estimated 4,000 undocumented students within the UC system, but Ray explained that the published data may not accurately reflect the undocumented student population.  

“The way that some of those metrics are taken is based on students who apply for DREAM loans or for AB540 scholarships or funding,”  Ray said. “I think the number in the UC is larger than this because not every student who is not a US citizen is contemplated in that number. I believe it’s in the range of 400 to 500 [on the Davis campus].

Pressure is mounting on Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act after President Trump decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which assists child immigrants of immigrant parents.  Eligible DACA children are those who were under 16 years of age when they moved to America, who must also be either enrolled in school or the Army as well as non-felons.

ASUCD President and fourth-year political science and economics major Josh Dalavai said he wants to see centers like the one at King Hall expanded and emphasized in a time that he views as difficult for immigrants in America.

“I think any proliferation in such services is not only timely and prudent but necessary in an era of intense fear for student immigrants,” Dalavai wrote via email.

 

Written by: Aaron Liss –– campus@theaggie.org