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Legal clinic at public school campus aims to serve needs of immigrant community

UCLA opened the Immigrant Family Legal Clinic at six Robert F. Kennedy Community schools in Koreatown in January. The clinic offers free legal services to students and families in the community. (Courtesy of UCLA School of Law)

By Armando Carrillo

May 29, 2019 10:31 p.m.

UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District will offer legal representation and advice to undocumented individuals through a new immigration law clinic at public schools in Koreatown.

The Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, which opened in January, offers free legal services to students and families from the six Robert F. Kennedy Community schools in Koreatown. The clinic is the only immigration law clinic in the nation located on a K-12 public school campus, according to UCLA’s website.

UCLA law students represent clients at the clinic under the supervision of UCLA faculty and can obtain course credit for serving at the clinic, said Nina Rabin, the clinic’s director. Undergraduate students also help out at the clinic by serving as translators, she added.

The clinic offers one-time confidential consultations, in which staff members assess their client’s legal options, Rabin said. The clinic will represent them in their cases or connect them with legal help if they have a valid legal claim, she added.

“We’ll do a (one-time) consultation for a lot of people, and then we’ll choose a smaller number of people to do their whole case,” Rabin said. “And that tends to be either people who have a strong asylum claim, or some of the kids in the school who are eligible for a special visa.”

The clinic was established entirely from an anonymous $1 million donation to the UCLA School of Law, Rabin said. However, additional funding will eventually be needed to sustain and grow the clinic, she said.

The clinic’s partners include the UCLA School of Law, the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, LAUSD and several nonprofit legal service providers and national advocacy organizations, according to UCLA’s website.

Karen Quartz, an adjunct professor at the UCLA GSEIS and research director of UCLA Community Schools, said UCLA and LAUSD chose to build the clinic on the RFK campus in Koreatown because of the large immigrant population in the community and because UCLA has been an active partner of the UCLA Community School located on the RFK campus.

The UCLA Community School is a research-guided K-12 school that aims to promote equality and support historically underserved students, according to UCLA’s website.

The clinic’s formation began in 2015 when the community started to identify a need for the clinic, said Leyda Garcia, principal of the UCLA Community School. In 2015, a UCLA GSEIS dissertation estimated that one-third of the 4,000 students at the six RFK schools are undocumented, according to a document from the clinic.

About one-third of students stated they were somewhat concerned up to extremely concerned about applying for college because they didn’t have documentation, Quartz said. She added UCLA will be conducting research related to the clinic and the RFK schools.

Law students have already worked with clients facing deportation and have helped them explore their options going forward, Rabin said. She said the clinic has also helped a couple of students who have either been abused, abandoned or neglected take the first steps to obtain their citizenship.

The clinic has also looked into asylum claims for students who attend the RFK schools but entered the country within the last couple of years, Rabin said. She added many asylum seekers are unaccompanied minors, or children who came into the country on their own.

Rabin said she thinks a lot of immigrants feel scared right now because of divisive rhetoric and policies around immigration.

“During this time, when immigrant families are living with so much fear and uncertainty about their futures because of the current administration’s immigration policies, I think having a place to go that’s been a really trusted, safe place in their lives is really helpful and necessary,” she said.

Rabin said students and families, regardless of whether or not they are immigrants, can come to the clinic with legal questions about housing, workers’ rights and other matters not related to immigration.

The clinic also provides teachers and counselors with immigration-related information and has helped host workshops at the schools to inform students of their rights, Rabin said. She added the clinic trained guidance counselors on how immigrant families should disclose information on financial aid applications.

Garcia said the RFK community schools aim to use the new legal clinic to provide immigrant students with the same support that she received from her community as an immigrant from Guatemala.

“We are a country that was built on the diversity of experiences, and sometimes we forget that that’s so inextricably who we are as a nation,” Garcia said. “We’re in a moment where some of those histories are being suspended, and people want to erase them and reframe them. But that is our truth. And I think it’s a truth that will always define us.”

Contributing reports by Marilyn Chavez-Martinez, Daily Bruin contributor.

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Armando Carrillo
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