Some students facing deportation will receive legal help from attorneys with the Los Angeles Unified School District under a plan approved Tuesday by the Board of Education.
Under the proposal, brought forward by the general counsel's office, district lawyers could volunteer time on behalf of these students, which could number in the thousands within the nation's second-largest school system.
A lawyer would be allowed to represent only one student at a time and for an estimated one to three hours a week. Any work time lost would have to be made up. About 10 lawyers have expressed interest so far, which could fall short of the potential need.
Board members Tamar Galatzan and George McKenna expressed concerns about the possible use of district resources and also the singling out of this particular legal need. McKenna noted that students and their families face myriad serious legal problems.
In the end, however, McKenna agreed to give the program a chance. Galatzan cast the lone dissenting vote. In an interview, L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he also had concerns about singling out deportation as the sole focus of legal help. He did not participate in the board discussion.
"I have every expectation that this will work," said general counsel David Holmquist, adding that Gov. Jerry Brown had issued a general call for legal assistance to these students.
Holmquist also noted that the L.A. Unified volunteers would work with experts in the field, and that they might call on district staff for some support. The cost, he said, would be negligible especially because students who remained in the school system would enhance district funding.
Nationally, the number of unaccompanied minors processed by immigration rose from fewer than 8,000 in 2011 to more than 57,000 in 2014, according to statistics cited by L.A. Unified. More than 95% have come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Last year, nearly 3,000 were released to sponsors in L.A. County. Many have ended up attending L.A. schools, according to a district report. As of the end of October, there were 4,920 unaccompanied youth with cases pending before local immigration courts. Nearly two-thirds of them are not represented by a lawyer, according to the district.
"A legal representation crisis has emerged," a report by district staff said. "There are not enough attorneys representing unaccompanied youth in deportation proceedings, and thousands of children who might otherwise qualify for legal residency are being taken out of their schools in the United States and sent back to the violence and persecution they fled."
District staff cited research finding that 73% of youth with representation were allowed to stay in the United States, compared with 15% without legal help.