Education

Need an immigration lawyer? Some LA schools can refer you

Volunteers from The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) protest with banners and placards over a freeway in Los Angeles, California on August 28, 2017.
Volunteers protested in support and defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration relief program which has represented hope and a lifeline for more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrant men and women. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers from The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) protest with banners and placards over a freeway in Los Angeles, California on August 28, 2017. Volunteers protested in support and defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration relief program which has represented hope and a lifeline for more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrant men and women. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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During the last nine months, leaders of the Magnolia network of charter schools have been sending this message to home to families: if you need an immigration attorney, talk to your school’s principal.

The principal, explained Magnolia Public Schools CEO Caprice Young, will then set up a consultation with a "very experienced" immigration attorney, "who has volunteered his time, pro bono, to do the work for any of our families."

In immigrant-rich Southern California, Magnolia is not the only school offering to connect its students or their parents with legal help. The Los Angeles Unified School District refers families to immigration attorneys. So do other charter schools in the city.

Magnolia schools began lining up legal aid services around the time of President Donald Trump's inauguration in January. But these measures took on new salience Tuesday after the administration's announcement that it would phase out the "DACA" program, which granted temporary legal residency for certain immigrants who entered the U.S. as children.

"I would argue," said Marcia Aaron, who runs the KIPP L.A. network of charter schools, "if not us, then who?"

Both Aaron and Young argued schools have a moral obligation to help parents access legal aid services because their schools have made promises to look out for students' best interests. For instance, Aaron noted parents need a lawyers' assistance to set up legal guardianship for their child in case they're detained; a sudden deportation could leave a student without a caretaker.

"How do we create a safe place and let our families know that we’re with them?" Aaron said. "Students can’t learn when they’re facing trauma."

Young said schools can be "clearinghouses" for immigrant families to be connected with community resources, including attorneys; and for immigration attorneys willing to take on families' cases pro bono to find people in need of their services. 

"The students and families impacted by the attacks on DACA will be able to have the legal support — and also know that the legal support that they’re getting is high-quality," Young said, "not just some notario telling them this is going to solve it, but it won’t.”

Notarios are occasionally-unscrupulous immigration consultants who help families complete immigration paperwork, but are not attorneys and sometimes charge exorbitant fees.