Some Los Angeles Unified students facing deportation will receive legal help from lawyers who work for the school district.
Under a plan approved by the school board this week, the lawyers are now allowed to volunteer their time on behalf of the students.
The lawyers would be allowed to represent one student at a time for between one and three hours a week and would have to make up any loss of work time for the district.
“This important initiative will meet immediate and urgent need in our community,” board Vice President Steve Zimmer said in a statement.
School officials did not provide estimates on how many students would be affected under the initiative called Advocating for Youth Unaccompanied in Deportation Actions. Under federal law, districts are required to offer an education to children regardless of their immigration status.
Of the nearly 54,000 unaccompanied children released to sponsors after their apprehension by immigration authorities in 2014, roughly 5 percent—about 3,000 of them—reside in Los Angeles County, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, has taken in the most unaccompanied minors.
The action was taken to address the record flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the United States’ southern border, a deluge that began in 2011. They’re part of a surge of immigrants, mainly Central American, fleeing violence and poverty in part after hearing that American immigration policy had grown more accommodating.
The students have to juggle court dates and concerns about deportation while trying to adjust to new schools in a new country, sometimes with little or no English skills.
The Los Angeles Times reports that L.A. Unified staff cited research finding that “73 percent of youth with representation were allowed to stay in the United States, compared with 15 percent without legal help.”
“Our students faced with circumstances beyond their control can now focus in the classroom instead of the courtroom,” school board member Mónica Garcia said in a statement.
“Our lawyers, like our cafeteria workers and teachers, are important advocates to assist in meeting the needs of our youth and creating access to justice, learning, and achievement. I challenge other districts across the nation to do the same,” Garcia said.
The Times’ editorial page slammed the initiative, arguing that the district setting “itself up as a de facto immigration legal service constitutes a troubling level of mission creep.”
In December, LA Unified announced plans to help students and families access school records they will need to apply for deportation relief promised by President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.