Beginning this semester, a full-time immigration attorney and a full-time psychologist are joining the staff of the campus’s Undocumented Student Program.
Prerna Lal, an immigration attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center, and Diana Pena, a staff member at UC Berkeley’s Counseling and Psychological Services, will be the fourth and fifth staff members of the USP, located in the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
Meng So, the director of the USP, said Pena’s position arose because of a rise in undocumented students’ calls for innovation in the USP’s mental health services in an annual survey. Lal’s arrival was due to an internal realization of a need for sustainable models of legal support for undocumented students, as the landscape of immigration remains “on tenuous ground,” So said in an email.
“Undocumented students deserve to be both legally and mentally prepared for UC Berkeley, so this is definitely a helpful step towards gaining resources for undocumented students,” said Cuahuctemoc Salinas, a fifth-year student who identifies as undocumented and Latino.
Salinas thinks the two new positions will help not only the recruitment of undocumented students to the campus but also their retention rate.
As the first of their kind at a college or university in the United States, both new positions will be privately funded.
Lal will provide counsel, informational workshops, advice and direct legal representation to undocumented students at UC Berkeley.
Furthermore, Lal will be holding weekly office hours for students, and these may become available to students’ family members and the East Bay community. She also has the opportunity to meet with interested members of the campus administration about immigration matters.
“Undocumented students live with the anxiety of themselves and oftentimes family members potentially being deported from the United States,” Lal said in an email. “We hope that the legal services program we are building at UC Berkeley can meet and assess immigration pathways for our students and families so they no longer have to worry about detention or deportation for themselves or their loved ones.”
According to So, Pena has already started her new job in the USP’s headquarters.
“The mental health needs of students came across very clearly in the data (from the annual survey),” So said. “Students were describing high levels of anxiety, compartmentalized stress, fears of deportation and separation. We realized services need to be innovated.”
According to So, nearly 400 undocumented students from more than 20 countries will have access to these USP services in the 2015-16 academic year.
“There are a lot more to be done,” So said. “But this is definitely a step in the right direction.”