UCI law students provide free aid to undocumented students

Students in the UC Irvine School of Law are taking time on top of their studies and research to help some of the university's approximately 650 undocumented students with immigration matters before President-elect Donald Trump assumes office Jan. 20.

The law students began offering the pro bono — free — legal work last week.

Almost a dozen law students attended a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Renewal Fair at the UCI law school to meet with undocumented students looking to renew their DACA status.

During his campaign, Trump said he would repeal DACA, an executive action established by the Obama administration in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to get temporary permission to stay and work in the country. They must reapply every two years.

The fair last week was open to UCI students seeking help in filling out their renewal applications.

"There's a lot of concern over the DACA program itself and what it means to apply under a new presidency," said second-year UCI law student Samuel Park, 26. "Just having the rights that so many people take for granted is monumental and life-changing, so there's a lot of emotions and a lot of concern right now."

Trump was quoted this week in a Time magazine interview that he would like to "work something out" for those young immigrants.

"They got brought here at a very young age, they've worked here, they've gone to school here," Trump said in the interview. "Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in never-never land because they don't know what's going to happen."

More than 700,000 immigrants are in the DACA program, according to the Los Angeles Times.

UCI law school staff and one student were trained last week by Saya Austin, a staff attorney with the University of California Undocumented Legal Services Center, on how to conduct immigration screenings to help students see what forms of relief they or their family members may be eligible for.

The screenings will continue as needed, according to Anna Davis, the law school's director of pro bono programs.

Some law students also will volunteer at naturalization fairs this month at the Orange County Labor Federation in Orange. Those who attend may ask for help in filling out their application for naturalization, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Though pro bono work is not required for UCI law students, a large majority of them choose to participate in it each year, according to professor Sameer Ashar.

"There's been a deep commitment to doing pro bono work," said Ashar, a co-director of the Immigration Rights Clinic at the law school. "One of the big questions is … as a lawyer, how do you respond when a crisis is in the community? How do you marshal your knowledge and experience to support particularly vulnerable populations?"

The assistance to undocumented students comes as the University of California system announced last week that it intends to protect students who entered the country illegally.

The UC president's office released a statement saying that all nine campuses in the system will not release confidential student records without court orders or have school police departments help local, state or federal agencies investigate, detain or arrest students in connection with possible violations of federal immigration law.

"While we still do not know what policies and practices the incoming federal administration may adopt, given the many public pronouncements made during the presidential campaign and its aftermath, we felt it necessary to reaffirm that UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study and live safely and without fear at all UC locations," UC President Janet Napolitano said in the statement.

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10