Student-led clinics offer legal advice, resources for undocumented immigrants

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Abraham Vences and his mother sat across from a lawyer at a clinic on campus Saturday afternoon as the three meticulously reviewed the application that could give him the opportunity to work and live in the United States without fear of being deported.

A recent high school graduate, Vences was one of many undocumented residents who attended a clinic aimed at helping applicants complete paperwork to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, process.

University Leadership Initiative, a student group that organizes programs and advocates for legislation that benefits the undocumented community, organized the clinic. This semester, ULI has devoted most of its time to helping students and community members apply for DACA, a policy President Obama announced in June that gives certain undocumented immigrants temporary legal work status and relief from deportation proceedings. The clinic Saturday was the fifth ULI has organized this semester. The UT Law School’s Immigration Clinic has also assisted applicants in the Austin area.

Javier Huamani, mechanical engineering senior and ULI historian, said the clinics offer applicants reliable legal advice without requiring them to pay hundreds of dollars in legal fees.

“One of the biggest issues that occurred in the very beginning when the application came out was scams and people just wanting to take advantage of what was happening,” Huamani said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure these people have the right information and they don’t have to pay anything for it.”

The clinic Saturday offered applicants free access to volunteers who helped organize their paperwork and lawyers who reviewed the applications. Huamani said most people need to get their applications reviewed by a lawyer before they submit it.

“This is a one-shot application,” Huamani said. “If you get denied there’s no reapplying. So it’s pertinent for you to be as meticulous as possible when working on the application.” 

Virginia Raymond, an immigration lawyer in Austin who volunteered at the clinic, said the documents applicants submit offer a glimpse into the lives of many of the undocumented immigrants. To be approved, applicants use personal records to prove they were younger than 16-years-old when they arrived in the U.S. and have resided here since June 15, 2007, among other requirements.

“You see all of these class photos from kindergarten up and the vaccination records and soccer photos and little notes from teachers,” Raymond said. “It’s tremendously inspiring and rewarding.”

The Obama administration released statistics Friday showing that more than 53,000 applicants have been approved since the application period began in August. Out of the 308,935 applications received nationwide, Texas ranked second among all states with 47,727 applications submitted. Most applications are still in the review process. ULI estimates they have helped 50 people apply.

Abraham Vences will soon be one of those hundreds of thousands of applicants betting their futures on the fate of their applications. After completing his paperwork Saturday, Vences said he was hopeful his approval would open new doors of opportunity in his future.

“I can find a job without having to worry about being deported, and go to school and do anything an American can,” Vences said.

Printed on Monday, November 19, 2012 as: Organization offers free legal aid to undocumented immigrants