Free Legal Help Demand Exceeds Expectationscsudhbulletin October 23, 2019 0 COMMENTS
By: Robin Renay Bolton, Staff Reporter
A mere three weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could profoundly shape the futures of those undocumented individuals living in America collectively called “Dreamers,” the demand for free immigration legal services at California State University, Dominguez Hills has exceeded expectations.
Originally intended to be offered every other week by a team consisting of a lawyer and a paralegal, the “positively overwhelming” response from CSUDH students has meant increasing the visits to weekly in order to keep up with the needs of students and staff, according to Michelle Polanco, a lawyer who is part of the two-person team assigned to CSUDH.
In August, the California State University announced that it was rolling out free immigration services at 22 of its 23 campuses.
Though available to all students and staff, those who are undocumented would receive priority for appointments on matters such as immigration status and assistance in filling out family-based petitions.
That announcement came two months after the Supreme Court agreed to hear legal challenges over President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), for about 800,000 recipients across America, including an estimated 10,000 CSU students.
While there is no firm number of how many of CSUDH’s appointments have centered around questions relating to undocumented status or specifically DACA-related issues, Ana Barragan, the program coordinator of the Toro Dreamers Success Center, said CSUDH has approximately 500 undocumented students, and one out of eight students have an undocumented parent and paths to legal residency may exist for them.
“There is research that shows 18 percent of undocumented immigrants qualify for a pathway to legal residency,” Barragan said. “But a lot of times they don’t know about that pathway or even know they qualify because they don’t have access to lawyers or cannot afford to pay for the pathway.”
The CSU has contracted with four immigrants-right organizations in the state to provide the legal assistance, including CARECEN, which is working with eight Southern California CSUs, including CSUDH.
While the legal services are free, students and employees are still responsible for any fees associated with application fees, such as the $495 it costs to file a DACA application.
Most of the services offered are only for CSUDH students and staff, but the legal team is also offering help with family petitions. This allows CSUDH students and staff to get help with applying for their family members to become legal residents.
“The direct services are for the staff and students of CSUDH, but let’s say if you come in and say ‘My parents are undocumented. I’m a legal citizen and I want to petition for them.’” Barragan said. “You are still the client and we would be able to help you.”
The fate of individuals involved in the DACA program was thrown into turmoil after Trump, who campaigned on a strong anti-immigrant platform, ended it in 2017. DACA was created June 5, 2012 through an executive order by President Barack Obama as a way that those brought to the country as children and who met certain criteria, such as graduating from high school or serving in the military and posing no threat to national security, were granted two years of protection from deportation and given work permits. Recipients could renew their status every two years.
In his September 2017 announcement that he was ending DACA, Trump gave Congress a six-month “deadline” to legalize it or it would expire. But before that deadline expired, the University of California filed a lawsuit Jan. 8, 2018 on grounds that rescinding DACA was unlawful. A district court judge agreed to an injunction that froze the revocation, allowing those who had, or previously had, DACA status to continue to submit applications to renew. That lawsuit was joined by two others, which also saw injunctions issued.
In November 2018, the government, claiming the decision to rescind DACA was not reviewable by the courts, asked the Supreme Court directly to review the lower courts’ decision. The court passed at that time but on June 28, 2019, agreed to review the challenges. It said it would consider two questions: whether the decision to rescind DACA is reviewable by the courts; and whether ending DACA is legal.
The court will hear oral arguments Nov. 12. A decision is expected before June, 2020.
In a brief filed last month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote that DACA recipients generate approximately $9 billion in taxes annually, and that businesses would lose billions of dollars if DACA were revoked and they were no longer to legally live and work in the U.S.