To states searching for ways to aid undocumented students, here’s a blueprint: eight community colleges in southern California are set to participate in a pilot offering free legal help to undocumented students, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The Community College Immigration Legal Services Project stands to reach 65 colleges across California, funded by a $10 million award to the state’s Department of Social Services, and will additionally be open to faculty and staff.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the pilot program comes after a recent survey that found that access to free or low cost legal help was one of the biggest worries facing undocumented students. It also comes as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting nearly 200,000 young immigrants in the state, and 700,000 nationally, faces an uncertain future, with a decision on its fate coming from the Supreme Court by June.
“Local community college officials said that regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court case, they anticipate that undocumented students will seek out legal services,” the paper reported. “They added that it’s crucial to create a haven for undocumented students at a time when many feel vulnerable to deportation.”
While DACA recipient Sandra Lobato is now a student at San Diego State University after transferring from a local community college in the San Diego area, she told The San Diego Union-Tribune the group she works with, San Diego Border Dreamers, frequently hears from undocumented students in need of help. “It’s wonderful to be getting that support and it’s acknowledgment that we are here,” she said. “That’s the kind of help and support that we’ve been needing.”
While California isn’t alone in offering low or free cost legal services to undocumented people—in Oregon, a local initiative has helped hundreds of people facing deportation—the state’s large and vibrant immigrant communities do highlight the importance of creating programs like the Community College Immigration Legal Services Project and San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium’s Borderlands Get Free Fund, which helps bond immigrants out of ICE detention.
Support from programs like the Community College Immigration Legal Services Project is “much needed, especially with the political climate right now; students are even more in the shadows and are afraid to identify themselves,” Izabel Solis, Counseling Department supervisor at Palomar College, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “We are hoping that as we have more resources available they will seek resources when needed.”