SACRAMENTO —Thanks to a former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, immigrant and undocumented students now can get legal assistance through the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center at the University of California (UC) Davis School of Law.

“I attribute the idea to University of California President Janet Napolitano,” Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school, recently told the Northern California Record. 

Napolitano, who was named president of the University of California system shortly after leaving her post at Homeland Security in 2013, was initially greeted with protests from students wary of her history with deportation and those who feared she would cause trouble for undocumented students enrolled at UC.

In response to the negative reaction from students, Napolitano created an advisory committee to evaluate what could be done to help undocumented students, both within the UC system and elsewhere. The center ultimately was born out of that committee and has been operating for almost three years, 

Working in collaboration with the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic, lawyers, legal educators and professors help students at UC campuses in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Merced, San Diego, Riverside and Santa Barbara with their own immigration issues, as well as those of their family members.

The center provides legal advice, as well as representation, for these students. It also holds seminars on immigrant rights and workshops that aid students in applying for immigrant relief benefits. Students and volunteers can receive immigrant services training at the center as well.

All services are provided to students confidentially. If the center is not able to provide services for free, it aims to make costs as affordable as possible. There is no connection between the center and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Though Johnson gives Napolitano credit for the birth of the program, he also took part in its creation. 

“I was pleased to have worked with the President’s Advisory Committee on Undocumented Students to conceptualize and present a proposal to President Napolitano to help provide legal services to undocumented students," Johnson said. 

Johnson and others involved in the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center hope to set an example for handling the needs of immigrants in academia. 

"UC can be a trendsetter with respect to serving undocumented students,” Johnson said.

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