Thousands of undocumented students across the UC system may soon receive comprehensive legal services from the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic. UC President Janet Napolitano announced on Nov. 21 that the clinic’s pilot program will be implemented on six campuses which lack formal law schools: UCSD, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC San Francisco.
The new legal services program was created in response to a recommendation by Napolitano’s Advisory Committee on Undocumented Students, whom she appointed soon after becoming president of the UC system. Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law, is a member of the committee and made several proposals for Napolitano to consider, with the current pilot program eventually winning out.
The UC Office of the President will provide over $500,000 to fund the endeavor, led by multiple UC Davis School of Law staff members.
According to Leticia Saucedo, Director of Clinical Legal Education, UC Davis’ deep level of expertise in the field, as well as the high number of faculty involved in immigration law, made it well-suited to implement the project.
“The immigration clinic at Davis has been around for 30 years, which is one of the longest immigration clinics in the country,” Saucedo said to the UCSD Guardian. “The pilot involves UC Davis providing legal services to the campuses that don’t have law schools — the idea being that campuses that do have law schools already have some sort of program going on with their own undocumented students.”
The pilot program will begin operations in early 2015 and will offer a multitude of similar services to undocumented and assembly bill 540-eligible UC students, although each of the six campuses will have individualized centers. These include legal counseling clinics and informational sessions, processing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications and training for volunteers in immigration services.
At UCSD, the UC Davis clinic staff will soon be working with Undocumented Student Services Coordinator Jessica Munoz, a licensed attorney, to assist students who such require legal counseling and advice.
Munoz explained that UCSD has already been working hard to provide undocumented students with the resources they need to overcome obstacles related to their status. She believes the new legal center would provide unexpected benefits to students who have never had a comprehensive screening by an immigration attorney.
“A legal services program tailored to the needs of students who are undocumented would expand students’ access to legal services and ability to resolve any legal issues that do arise in an efficient way,” Munoz said. “This could make the difference between a student having to endure an interruption to their education or being able to stay in school. ”
Should the program prove successful, it could potentially spread to other states seeking to remove barriers to higher education for undocumented youth. “This pilot program is just the beginning,” Napolitano said in her 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.”