Last Friday, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced a pilot program at the UC Davis School of Law that will provide legal services for undocumented students at the six UC campuses without law schools, including UCSB.
The program will not only provide representation for undocumented students from these campuses, but also offer financial help, informational walk-ins about student rights, counseling and advice sessions. It will also serve as a model for similar potential programs at individual UC campuses or other universities in the future. According to the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center, the UC Davis School of Law was the most qualified group to host the pilot due to the many distinguished experts within its Immigration Law Clinic.
Dean of the UC Davis School of Law Kevin R. Johnson said the objective of the pilot program is to provide equality to undocumented students and allow them the freedom enjoyed by other students without needing to worry about legal threats.
“By regularizing their immigration status through available legal options, the students will be able to focus on academic success and other aspects of being a college student,” Johnson said. “This will help them to experience university life in ways similar to other students.”
According to Leticia Saucedo, a professor of law at UC Davis and faculty member of the pilot program, the program plans to eliminate the factors keeping students in the UC from succeeding.
“The aim of the program is to ensure that students remove as many of their extreme obstacles as possible to their success in school and beyond,” Saucedo said. “Students have been quite receptive and have been signing up for the appointments with the attorney to seek advice and representation.”
Fourth-year UCSB biology major and undocumented student Edgar Alvarado said the program will help him toward his goal of becoming a doctor.
“I think it is great that students like myself get the type of help that they absolutely need,” Alvarado said. “I think it’s essential because I had to work very hard in order to be able to graduate with honors here at UCSB. My next step is to enroll to a medical school of my choice. With help like this, I will become a doctor.”
According to Alvarado, undocumented immigrant youth often face societal barriers to accessing higher education.
“I have undocumented cousins and friends who were discouraged at early ages because their parents and teachers said that it would be impossible for them to go to college,” Alvarado said.
This lack of educational opportunity often results in lower quality of life for undocumented youth, Alvarado said.
“It is a tedious process to undergo as a young child and adolescent, and these people now work at local laundromats, McDonald’s restaurants and things of that nature,” Alvarado said. “Being undocumented placed a burden on their backs that did not make higher education an option for them.”
According to Saucedo, handling immigration cases can be overwhelming without expert assistance, however the pilot program should help turn a complicated problem into a more manageable one.
“The goal of the program is to provide legal services, counseling and information to undocumented students and their families about immigration-related issues and to help them navigate the complex immigration system,” Saucedo said. “It is very complex. People do not realize how complex it actually is until they experience it.”
Cruz Reynoso, a UC Davis professor of law emeritus and former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California, said some students often have many questions and face difficult challenges as a result of their legal status, and that those can only be thoroughly addressed through legal counsel.
“There are so many unanswered questions about being an undocumented student,” Reynoso said. “I was an assistant to an undocumented student at the law school here at UC Davis and he had an issue with owning a social security card. I had to find out through policies that you do not need a social security number for the bar exam. Rather, a valid special number was appointed to him and now he is a lawyer.”
Ivan Quintanilla, a fourth-year sociology major and undocumented student at UC Merced, said the legal assistance will help him feel more comfortable as a student and more prepared for his future.
“I am so glad that help is finally available,” Quintanilla said. “The pilot program will reduce my stress as a student in this country because I have always doubted my future without legal support. I have suffered so much as an undergrad, and I am now happy to be able to relay important information that I have received from these services to my family.”
UC Davis law school student and beneficiary of the newly implemented legal services Juan Flores said he is grateful for the services, and that his fear of navigating the university system has diminished because he can relate with other students using the program.
“It is a collective help where students and staff work together with an attorney in a safe space,” Flores said. “In this space, we all relate and our fear has disappeared.”