Eight local community colleges have been selected to participate in a pilot program offering free immigration-related legal services through a statewide project involving the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the California Department of Social Services.
The program, which is being rolled out in 2020, will include confidential consultations addressing immigration status, help applying for various benefits, workshops covering immigration-related topics, spreading the word about available community resources, and other outreach events. Area campuses hosting the services – which will be available to students, faculty staff – are Cuyamaca, Grossmont, Imperial Valley, MiraCosta, Palomar, San Diego City, San Diego Mesa, Southwestern colleges.
“Providing our students with accurate, up-to-date information about immigration law and policy and furnishing legal representation by a qualified provider will allow them to focus on and advance their educational and career goals,” said Southwestern College Superintendent/President Dr. Kindred Murillo, who also serves as president of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association. “Protecting immigrants, documented and undocumented, and ensuring they can access a quality higher education is part of our commitment to serve all students from all populations.”
The Community College Immigration Legal Services Project is funded through Assembly Bill 1809, which provided $10 million in the 2018-19 budget for the California Department of Social Services contract with nonprofits that can provide immigration legal services to community colleges across the state.
Jairo Castañeda, Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) lead attorney for this project, said the partnership was critical for immigrant students.
“We applaud the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the California Department of Social Services for creating this important and forward-thinking pilot program,” Castañeda said. “JFS is proud to be a partner in this vital effort – everyone on each campus should know they have this immigration support, whenever they may need it.”
Demand should be strong. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Nov. 12 on the federal government’s plan to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and regardless how the High Court rules, the decision’s impact could be profound. The California Community Colleges system estimates it serves between 50,000 and 70,000 undocumented students in the state, and the Migration Policy Institute estimates that half that number are probably protected by the DACA program.
California’s community colleges have a long history of supporting undocumented students, dating back to the 2001 passage of AB 540, which allowed undocumented students who meet certain qualifications to pay in-state tuition. And following the Trump Administration’s announcement in September of 2017 to rescind DACA, community colleges throughout the state moved swiftly to protect students covered under the program. In addition, colleges throughout the region have opened Dreamer resource centers for students covered under the DACA program and others.
After a comprehensive review of the more than 100 Request For Information responses submitted to the Foundation for California Community Colleges, nine legal service providers were selected to serve 65 colleges statewide chosen for initial pilot phase of the project. Additionally, over the course of the next two years, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has been contracted to develop up-to-date information that students, faculty and staff can access via the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website.
The initiative is aimed at addressing a critical need identified through a recent California Community Colleges Dreamers Project Report that found one of the top three pressing concerns for undocumented students was the need for free or low-cost legal services.