Students at University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law recently helped three children facing abuse, neglect, abandonment and even death come closer to becoming permanent U.S. residents.
One of the three children, who had to leave school after the first grade to avoid gangs in Central America that threatened his life, came north several years ago to live with family in the Sacramento area. He is now thriving in high school. Pacific’s law students, under the guidance of Nordahl and fellow attorney Kishwer Vikaas, convinced a family court judge that the boy needed to stay in the United States for his own safety.
“Over the past few years, we have been responding to a need in the community,” said McGeorge’s Blake Nordahl, one of two full-time attorneys directing the law school’s Immigration Law Clinic. “Young juveniles, minors who are coming primarily from Central America, but also Mexico, who are fleeing either gang violence or sometimes family violence and who are in need of assistance on a range of issues. We’ve been able to provide assistance on immigration.”
In a separate case, law students persuaded a family court judge that two siblings, who had been abused and abandoned, also needed to stay in the United States for their own safety. This summer they will help these and other children begin the complicated immigration application process that could take the next several years.
“It’s a long process left to go, but this was a big hurdle. … It’s a difficult application process,” said Nordahl. “But now that we have those findings, we can move forward with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and make an affirmative application. We’ll be helping them with that process this summer.”
Nordahl said McGeorge’s Immigration Law Clinic provides invaluable experience for aspiring attorneys and potentially life-saving services to clients living under the poverty level. Besides the trauma of abuse, neglect, abandonment and threats, clients often struggle for years to find an attorney to help them. Once the California Bar certifies the law students, they can represent clients in court.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for a student to get the real-world, practical experience of representing an individual from the initial consultation to trying to understand what are their legal issues, what are the relevant facts, what are the avenues, and then pursuing them,” said Nordahl. “The goal is to have the client working directly with the student.”
Nordahl said there is a great need in the Sacramento area for immigration law services and private attorneys and nonprofits cannot always cover all the cases. McGeorge law students will argue on behalf of their clients in three other cases in May and June.
Once the clients receive a positive court ruling, it may be years before a visa becomes available. Clients are not authorized to work during that time.
“We want them to be able to contribute to their families,” said Nordahl. “We look for other potential ways to help them that might allow that.”
Immigration Law Clinic was founded in 2000 and for the past several years has expanded its services, in part due to a grant from the California Department of Social Services. Given the current national political climate on immigration and seemingly constant debate about a border wall, interest in immigration has grown, including among McGeorge’s law students. There were 11 law students involved in the clinic in the spring semester when normally there are eight or so.
Law students for the past decade have also sponsored an annual immigration fair on the Sacramento Campus where volunteers provide free legal services for people seeking help in immigration issues, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals. The next fair is slated for October 2019.
The Immigration Law Clinic is one of several in which University of the Pacific students on its campuses in Sacramento, San Francisco and Stockton receive hands-on experience. Learn more about those clinics (YouTube).