Credit: Mustang News | Stephanie Zappelli

The Dream Center will host immigration attorneys to provide free legal counsel to students, staff, faculty and their families twice a month, beginning Jan. 15 and 16, until 2021, according to Dream Center Coordinator Katherine Pastor. 

“[Seeing an attorney provides] peace of mind,” a Cal Poly staff member who met with one of the attorneys said. “It’s very intimidating to tap into status and citizenship and legal permanent residency and all the legal jargon, so we’re very, very fortunate to have them here.”

The staff member was granted anonymity due to the circumstances of their immigration status.

The attorneys are from Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD), a nonprofit agency that provides immigration legal services, according to the Dream Center. Attorneys Barbara Pinto and Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis serve Cal Poly most frequently. 

In 2018, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) allocated $7 million to all California State University campuses to provide these legal immigration services, according to the Dream Center website. In 2019, the funding was provided again and will continue through 2021. 

The CDSS selected which legal firms would serve each college campus, and services will “be phased in over the next six months,” according to the Dream Center website

On the Central Coast, a consultation with an attorney costs about $300 to $400, according to Pastor. 

“When we’re talking about being a student, a lot of them already have the financial aid burden and living on campus or living off campus,” Pastor said.

This program eases the financial burden and makes immigration legal counsel more accessible to the undocumented community at Cal Poly, according to Pastor. 

Services began in October 2019 and have been used frequently.

“The first time our immigration attorneys were here they were booked the whole day, the whole two days,” Pastor said. 

What a consultation looks like

The ILD attorneys are available to all undocumented students, staff, and faculty, as well as their families. Some undoucmented individuals at Cal Poly have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, while others do not.

Then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order to bring DACA into action June 15, 2012. DACA delays the deportation of select undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors. Applicants receive a Social Security number and a work permit and have to reapply for DACA every two years, according to the University of California, Berkeley

However, individuals are eligible to meet with an attorney whether or not they have DACA status, according to Pastor.

The consultations are located on campus and last about an hour. 

So far, attorneys have focused most on aiding clients with DACA renewals and family based petitions, according to the Dream Center Website. They can also guide their clients through obtaining visas, marriage based petitions and answer any other questions their client may have, according to Pastor. 

“It’s still a stressful situation,” Pastor said. “But I think having immigration attorneys who know what they’re doing really helps to ease the stress.” 

The state of DACA

On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would gradually end the DACA program. In response, U.S. District Courts in California, New York and the District of Columbia issued legal court orders to allow DACA recipients to renew their DACA status, according to the National Immigration Law Center

At the moment, individuals who have DACA or who previously had DACA can submit applications to renew their DACA status, but the federal government is not taking new applications. As a result, more undocumented students without DACA entered higher education in 2019, according to Pastor.

On Nov. 12, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether or not the repeal of DACA is constitutional. They will make a decision by June 2020, according to the National Immigration Law Center

“With the current political climate, we are urging our students to renew their DACA if it expires sometime in 2020,” Pastor said. “And the great thing that these immigration attorneys have been able to do is help them with the application.”

If DACA is repealed, undocumented students will still be allowed to attend university, but they will no longer have the work permit provided under DACA. As a result, undocumented students may have a more difficult time paying for higher education, according to Pastor. 

“We’re seeing students looking for more opportunities of financial security,” Pastor said. “We’re talking with students who want to find internships, who want to find ‘learn by doing’ opportunities that are going to allow them to grow in their development as a student and will also provide them a source of financial aid.”

The Dream Center is advocating for programs like BEACON, which partners students with mentors and provides paid research opportunities, and EPIC, which is a paid internship for Cal Poly students at the Cal Poly Engineering Department over the summer. 

This would not only affect students.

If DACA is repealed, the CSU system will no longer be able to employ faculty and staff with DACA status, according to CSU Office of the Chancellor Public Affairs Manager Hazel Kelly.

“Honestly, I don’t really think about it too much, just because I have to continue to do what I do,” an anonymous Cal Poly staff member and DACA recipient said. “As a DACA recipient, you always know this is coming up every two years. You know, so it’s nothing shocking out of the ordinary.”

In addition, U.S. Citizinship and Immigration Services announced they may increase immigration fees by 21 percent to cover their operation costs. 

“Definitely acknowledge the fear, the stress that [undocumented] students are going through,” Pastor said. “At least that’s my role, is to allow them to be themselves and be able to express themselves and that fear, but continuing our services and empowering them to continue [their] education.”

Students, staff and faculty can sign up for a consultation through the Dream Center’s website or Instagram account

Editor’s note: Some sources were granted anonymity due to the circumstances of their immigration status. To read Mustang News’ policy on anonymous sources, visit our terms and policy page.

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