A petition to reinstate attorney Prerna Lal in their position at the Undocumented Student Program started Feb. 14 and has received 732 signatures out of its 800-signature goal as of press time.
Lal was placed on paid administrative leave from their position as the only immigration attorney at the Undocumented Student Program, or USP, on Feb. 8, and there have been no updates on Lal’s status since then. Lal still does not know why they were placed on leave, saying the basis of their removal is “conjectural” and that they “have done nothing wrong.”
The East Bay Community Law Center, under which Lal is hired, could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Katie Savin, a campus social welfare Ph.D. student, created the petition to reinstate Lal in order to show how the loss of Lal within the program would affect the undocumented community.
“Attorney Lal is a monumental immigrant rights advocate, organized a social movement with undocumented youth, and they have assisted over 500 students and family members at Undocumented Student Program (USP) with a one hundred percent success rate in the last two and (a) half years,” Savin said on the petition site.
Lal was instrumental in releasing Luis Mora from ICE custody after he was detained at a border checkpoint in San Diego.
Campus senior Adriana Ramos said she and her whole family have signed the petition. Ramos said in an email that in the nearly two years she has known Lal, they have advocated on her behalf and for many others to feel safer in school, at work and in the community.
“In their time with USP, Lal actively worked to position themselves as a trusted community member, and many people built trust working with Lal on their cases,” Ramos said. “I worry these unclear circumstances are quite disruptive to that trust.”
Lal did not comment on whether or not the petition will be effective in reinstating them in their former position, but Lal said they are hopeful the petition will prompt people to ask questions about the administrative leave procedures in place within the university. Lal added that their “basic request” is for due process.
“They are someone who improved the lives of our students with their hard work, commitment and dedication,” Savin said. “If they are treated as disposable without due process at Berkeley, then what does that say about how Berkeley sees the rest of us?”
Lal has been given no information regarding a return to the USP, but said in the meantime they have been barred from entering their former workplace on campus, which Lal said makes them fearful.
“I’m concerned about the students (my clients), but I’m also concerned about my own well-being,” Lal said.
Lal said in a Facebook post that while on administrative leave, they have still been working with migrants detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center. Lal said they worked with Mora over the last month to free four other migrants who were also detained at the detention center. Lal is also donating their paid leave salary for this month to start a national bond fund that will continue to free migrants, according to the post.
“It doesn’t seem fair to keep getting paid to sit around and not serve (the) community,” Lal said in the post.