Northeast Edition The Press

LAUSD to offer legal help to immigrant students

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles school board approved a plan Feb. 10 that would allow school district lawyers to accept voluntarily a limited number of deportation cases, without charge, involving unaccompanied children who live within the Los Angeles Unified School District’s boundaries.

The board approved the measure by a 6-1 margin, with board member Tamar Galatzan opposing the action. But other board members said they hoped the trail-blazing move would set a precedent not only in Los Angeles but elsewhere.

“This important initiative will meet an immediate and urgent need in our community,” school board Vice President Steve Zimmer said. “I am very supportive of our legal team volunteering to help our most vulnerable students who literally have nowhere else to turn.

“Statements of support are not enough in this moment of crisis. This effort could make the difference as to whether justice for our children is actually served.”

School board member Mónica García, who represents most of the Eastside, said: “LAUSD continues to lead by example. Our students faced with circumstances beyond their control can now focus in the classroom instead of the courtroom. 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.”

Motivated by the sistrict’s mission of keeping students in school, the action was taken to address the number of youngsters who fled dangers in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to the U.S. last year. In fact, of the 53,518 children who the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement released to sponsors in 2014, nearly 3,000 youth reside in Los Angeles County.

Children, as young as 5, have enrolled in LAUSD schools, although most of the students range in age from 15 to 17.

Ten district lawyers are expected to handle the cases on an average of one to three hours a week, in partnership with nonprofit organizations that specialize in immigration law. Handling one case at a time, the lawyers will make up those hours by working late and on weekends to handle their normal workload. Administrative costs, which is the only expense, will be minimal.

While it’s not known how many total cases will be handled by district volunteer attorneys, there are currently 2,962 unaccompanied youth, who are unrepresented in cases pending before the Los Angeles Immigration Court.

The initiative is expected to begin in spring. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, district staff will update results for board members.