CSU to provide free legal immigration services


California State University announced Aug. 28 a plan to provide free immigration legal services to students and employees. 

As part of this plan, attorneys, paralegals and accredited representatives will visit campuses on a regular basis and provide direct legal counsel. CSU allocated $7 million in this year’s budget to fund the services. The office of the chancellor has been working with the California Department of Social Services to implement the plan for legal services since 2018. 

“I am delighted that we will be able to increase the availability of immigration legal services to the California State University community,” CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said in an Aug. 28 press release. “We remain committed to ensuring that all CSU students have the opportunity to pursue their higher education goals regardless of their country of origin. This inclusive foundation extends to our employees, who demonstrate their dedication to student achievement and success on a daily basis.” 

Four providers will service CSU campuses throughout the state. Immigrant Legal Defense, a nonprofit based in the Bay Area, will provide direct legal services to eight campuses in Northern California and the Central Valley including SF State. Immigrant Legal Defense will gradually roll out its services based on the needs of students on campus, according to managing attorney Barbara Pinto.

“Having an attorney can really make a difference and have a positive impact on somebody’s case,” Pinto said. “Immigration law is very complex and unfortunately we’ve seen too many instances where somebody gets the wrong help, then it’s harder to do damage control.” 

The Dream Resource Center (DRC), which provides resources to undocumented students and staff on campus for academic growth and personal success, will partner with Immigrant Legal Defense to coordinate the legal services. 

Students, staff and faculty with immigration legal concerns will receive counseling in person or at Immigrant Legal Defense’s Oakland office. Although attorneys will provide legal counsel on all immigration issues, priority will be given to undocumented students, according to the DRC website detailing the services. 

“Students and especially undocumented students have so many obstacles and barriers in their lives due to their lack of status,” Pinto said. “So helping to remove that can better help them to focus on their schooling or other opportunities they’re working on.”

CSU estimates 9,500 students statewide receive the AB-540 waiver for undocumented students to pay resident fees instead of non-resident fees. According to Golden Gate Xpress reporting in 2018, the DRC approximated 500 to 700 undocumented and DACA-receiving students attend SF State.

Improving Dreams, Equity, Access and Success (IDEAS) is a student organization that advocates for student immigration rights and provides a safe space for undocumented students on campus. IDEAS was a key proponent for the DRC space in 2017, according to Maya Ochoa, external affairs coordinator of IDEAS. Ochoa said the university has made significant steps in the last few years to support undocumented students, but there are still ways to improve. 

“There are students here without DACA status who need legal services — they don’t have the luxury of the protections under DACA,” said Ochoa, a junior Chinese language major and DACA recipient. “These legal services aren’t just for students, they can find help for their family members. It’ll be a way for them to help their community.”