Emily Robinson, right, co-director, Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic, interviews a client at Los Angeles’ Dolores Mission Church, where the clinic conducts client intake sessions.



 

Emily Robinson’s phone has been ringing incessantly since Sept. 5, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal of DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children from deportation.

Robinson, the co-director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, has been fielding calls from DACA clients desperate for legal help. In response, the clinic on Saturday is hosting a daylong DACA renewal session where is expects to assist more than 100 people with DACA paperwork. The Mexican consulate will be on hand and has said it will cover the $495 filing fee for each Mexican citizen who renews at the clinic. The clinic also has committed to taking those 100 people on as clients should they need additional immigration assistance.

“I think everyone is really panicked and overwhelmed,” Robinson said. “Their whole lives are being uprooted. I have clients who are renowned artists, who are managers at banks, who are pursuing Ph.D.s or are paralegals, and now they’re not sure what will happen to their careers. You have been building this life for yourself and now you may lose everything you’ve been working towards.”

Law school clinics across the country have mobilized in the past week to assist DACA recipients, either by hosting informational sessions, helping them fill out the necessary paperwork to renew their status for two years, or through litigation. They have reached out to Spanish-language media outlets and community organizations to advertise their clinic services. There are nearly 800,000 people with DACA status, also called Dreamers, in the country.

It’s a race against time. DACA renewal paperwork to extend their status must be received by the government by Oct. 5, leaving clinics with less than three weeks to help clients navigate the the confusing process. The situation grew even murkier on Wednesday when top Democrats said they had reached a deal with President Trump on legislation to protect so-called Dreamers, but details were scant and any bill would have to secure at least some Republican support to pass. Regardless, the Oct. 5 deadline looms.

Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Clinic was among the first to take action, filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of a DACA recipient in New York just hours after the repeal was announced. That suit, the first to challenge the DACA repeal, argues that rescinding the program violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Most other law schools getting involved have opted to offer direct help and advice to DACA recipients as they renew their applications.

The University of Kansas School of Law doesn’t even have an immigration clinic, but the school’s clinical professors decided that the repeal of DACA warranted some sort of action, said Melanie DeRousse, who directs the the school’s Douglas County Legal Aid Clinic. “We had a brainstorming sessions and decided that helping people renew their DACA would be a matter of emergency concern right now,” she said.

The school is hosting a training session for law students and other volunteers Friday, and will hold walk-in clinics on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday for the next to weeks for members of the community seeking guidance on DACA renewals. The volunteers will help people determine whether they are eligible to renew their DACA status, and will help them complete their applications in hopes of avoiding paperwork problems.

“We want to make sure clients have it done exactly right so there no chance they’ll get rejected on technical reason,” DeRousse said. “There’s a drop dead deadline that it has to be received by Oct. 5.”

It’s unclear what level of demand the clinic will see for its DACA services. An estimated 6,800 Dreamers live in Kansas. But not all of them will qualify to reapply by the Oct. 5 deadline, since only those whose DACA status expires before March 5 are eligible.

The University of San Francisco School of Law is also holding a DACA assistance program on Friday and Saturday at a community center in the city. The school has been overwhelmed with volunteer law students from San Francisco and other Bay Area law schools, as well as immigration lawyers who want to help, said Bill Onh Hing, director of the school’s Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic. The clinic is also sharing its client screening forms and training materials with other local immigration organizations offering DACA help.

Hing said he expects to assist 40 or 50 people in reapplying for DACA over those two days. The school is also raising funds to help defray the application cost to clients, and had received $10,000 by Wednesday.

In addition to filing renewal applications, the volunteers will screen clients to see if they may qualify for some other form of immigration relief, Hing said, adding that an estimated 10 percent of DACA recipients fall into that category.

I’ve never seen the community this scared. The fear is palpable,” said Hing, who has practiced immigration law since 1975. “People want to know what’s going to happen after this, even if they get an extension. They are asking me to predict what Congress is going to do, which of course I can’t predict.”

Cornell Law School is focusing its DACA efforts on members of the university community. The school’s Farmworker’s Legal Assistance Program has been holding informational sessions on campus for DACA students, and is assisting them with their renewal applications, said professor Beth Lyon.

“They are getting a lot of advice from the Internet, each other, or from their parents’ lawyer,” Lyon said. “And sometime they want to stop in and double check with us on the advice their parent’s lawyer gave their family, which we don’t always agree with. Or they heard another theory on how you can beat the decision and find another way around it.”

Some people with DACA status are reluctant to reapply to the program for fear of giving the government their vital information, said Loyola’s Robinson. But she has been counseling them to reapply anyway because the government already has their personal information from previous applications. Having a two-year reprieve from deportation eligibility is worth it, she added.

Loyola’s Immigrant Justice Program stepped up its DACA assistance efforts in November when Trump was elected, Robinson said. Clinic leaders feared that a repeal was on the horizon, and helped file approximately 400 DACA applications and renewals between November and January, before Trump was sworn in.

“It’s a really devastating time for all of us because we see how bright and productive these people are,” Robinson said. “The fact that they are going to be losing opportunities is really hard.”