A UC Hastings 2L volunteering at a recent legal aid workshop for undocumented students at UC Santa Cruz knew only too well what it meant to be living in fear of deportation.
Born in Mexico, and brought illegally across the border to Southern California at age 2, the student, lacking American citizenship papers, must stay closeted.
“I can empathize with their fears, their concerns,” said the student, whose name and gender have been withheld. “I hope they continue forward. I’m so happy there are programs for them now that I didn’t have when I was younger.”
Ineligible for federal student loans, the student has been paying for school by working — including jobs tending bar and waiting tables — and with private loans from friends and relatives.
This 2L was one of 18 UC Hastings law students on hand at the Oct. 18 workshop held to help 40 of UC Santa Cruz’s undocumented students review the paperwork they need to satisfy new federal and state laws covering everything from temporary work permits to financial aid.
The workshop was spearheaded by UC Hastings Professor Kelly Weisberg, who is married to UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal.
With the number of undocumented students on the Santa Cruz campus growing in the past year from about 200 to 400, Weisberg said she would like to see an office dedicated to their legal needs set up on campus. In all, across the University of California’s 10 campuses, an estimated 2,000 undocumented students are enrolled.
An education at the University of California is a very expensive purchase. For example, the estimated costs for in-state residents at UC Santa Cruz (taking into account all expenses such as tuition, room and board, books, etc.) run around $34,000. To pay those costs is never easy. But it’s an enormous economic burden for undocumented students whose families' annual median household income is $36,000. For these students coming mainly from poor families, navigating the financial aid morass is a challenge. The Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), passed in 2012, grants eligible students temporary work permits and a renewable two-year respite from fear of deportation, but no access to federal financial aid.
To alleviate that, the 2013 California Dream Act gives undocumented students access to financial aid from the state of California and the University of California. And another state law, AB 540, allows them to pay in-state tuition. Last year, UC president Janet Napolitano kicked in $5 million as a one-time helping hand to increase student services and financial aid for undocumented UC students system wide. Students eligible for these programs are commonly known as DREAMers or the DACAmented.
When Weisberg learned of the 400 undocumented students on the Santa Cruz campus, she felt that as members of the top 10 percent of their high school classes — which had made them UC eligible — they were deserving of help.
She developed the workshop and brought together the staff of UC Santa Cruz’s Economic Opportunity Program, Santa Cruz-area immigration lawyers, members of Hastings Students for Immigration Rights and Richard Boswell, an immigration lawyer and UC Hastings law professor. Even the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union was there to offer low-cost loans to help students pay the $465 DACA fees.
“The outpouring of concern has been stunning,” said Weisberg. “I think this legal advice workshop should happen every quarter.”
Outside the Academic Resources Center building where the workshop was held, expansive views of redwood forests, sun-drenched grassy hills and the Pacific Ocean belied the serious but mostly upbeat conversations going on inside.
Doug Keegan, a longtime public interest lawyer with 16 years experience practicing immigration law in the Santa Cruz area, has had many such conversations.
“DACA gives these young people some hope that they can pursue their dreams the way other young people can,” said Keegan, program director of the Watsonville-based Santa Cruz County Immigration Project. “I’ve been really impressed with the Hastings students. It’s great to educate and engage them, and to model the ideals of the legal profession.”
One undocumented Santa Cruz student, also brought to the United States from Mexico by his family at age 2, was equally impressed.
“The UC Hastings students were super helpful,” said the young man, an experienced Web designer and software writer who intends to major in computer science. “It felt like you were talking to someone who knew what they were talking about. Now my renewal packet is ready to go; I just need a couple of passport photos and I’m set for another two years.”