Over 1,700 illegal immigrants could be blocked from deportation after the Los Angeles Unified School District voted Tuesday to allow its staff attorneys to represent students at deportation hearings.
The new policy, approved 6-1 by the school board, will let LAUSD lawyers spend 1-3 hours a week volunteering their time with students who are facing deportation. This pro bono work can include everything from researching evidence and preparing documents to representing the students in court. At least 10 employees have already expressed an interest in participating thus far.
The policy was adopted on the basis of a report compiled by LAUSD staff on the current condition of illegal immigrants in the district. According to the report, over 5,000 unaccompanied minors in the Los Angeles area currently have cases pending before local immigration courts. Of these 5,000, about 60 percent have no attorney representing them (deportation is a civil matter, so defendants are not provided a lawyer).
LAUSD’s statistics also say that 73 percent of youth with an attorney representing them end up staying in the country, while the rate is just 15 percent for those without one. This huge gap indicates that if LAUSD is successful in providing representation for those who lack it, over 1,700 additional illegal immigrants could win the right to stay.
“There are not enough attorneys representing unaccompanied youth in deportation proceedings, and thousands of children who might otherwise qualify for legal residency are being taken out of their schools in the United States and sent back to the violence and persecution they fled,” the staff report said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the district’s general counsel David Holmquist predicted at Tuesday’s meeting that the move could also prove to be a financial boon for the district, because the district receives a big chunk of its funding on a per-student basis. Halting even a few hundred deportations could be worth millions of dollars per year.
The action proposal approved by LAUSD’s board shows that the city’s top school officials see broader social justice causes as a key part of their job.
“The District cannot achieve one of its key strategies for success – ensuring a safe, caring and nurturing environment for all youth – while some youth are continuously uprooted from the security of their schools and communities and sent to another country to endure further trauma they once escaped,” the proposal reads. “[The program] would be a replicable model program that could save the lives of some of the District’s most vulnerable students.”
Some board members questioned why deportation in particular required the district’s legal intervention when both students and their families face can face a host of legal problems, but these objections were not enough to prevent implementation of the new program.
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