Napolitano announces legal-support program for undocumented students

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UC President Janet Napolitano unveiled a program Friday to provide legal assistance for undocumented students at six UC campuses.

Recent UC Davis Law School graduates will provide immigration-related legal services to students at campuses with no law schools, including UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC Merced, UC San Diego and UC Riverside. The program is set to begin in January.

Coordinated by UC Davis law faculty, the program will include drop-in counseling and “know-your-rights” workshops. Training for students and volunteers in immigration services will also be provided.

“There’s unfamiliarity with the system and the immigration bureaucracy,” said UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson. “You are more likely to be successful if you have the assistance of an attorney on these issues.”

Johnson said the university is anticipating an increased need in legal support for undocumented students after President Barack Obama’s announced expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Thursday. The initiative protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented people from immediate deportation if apprehended and allows them to work legally.

One of the priorities of the new UC program is providing advising for students renewing and applying to DACA, a demographic expected to grow after Obama’s plan to loosen requirements needed to qualify. UC Berkeley junior Ivan Villasenor Madriz, who is an undocumented student, praised the legal services team on campus that paid his DACA application fees.

“I have the huge blessing of having an institutional work study opportunity here at Cal because of DACA. I would have not been able to work here otherwise,” he said.

Villasenor Madriz said that while he has had a positive experience with campus counseling and legal services, “there’s no single undocumented student narrative.”

The UC program is meant to act as a template for other campuses that don’t have the same support structure as UC Berkeley.

“There’s been a very vocal movement on all the UC campuses for more support of undocumented students,” Johnson said. “Students have been really struggling for help.”

In 2013, Napolitano allocated $5 million to support undocumented students. The plan was presented amid public critique that said Napolitano’s background as U.S. secretary of homeland security would make her unsympathetic to undocumented students.

Johnson, however, praised Napolitano’s initiative in pushing the new program, saying that for him, “her leadership really made this happen. She’s been thinking about this for a long time.”

“This pilot program is just the beginning,” Napolitano said in a statement. “We want to create a model for other UC campuses and universities across the nation to provide legal representation for undocumented students on their campuses.”

Last year, the UC Office of the President estimated that there are about 900 undocumented students across the UC system.

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.