In a 6-1 vote, a new plan approved by the Board of Education for the Los Angeles Unified School District would offer legal help from attorneys for students who could be deported.
The proposal, Advocating for Youth Unaccompanied in Deportation Actions, would allow district lawyers to donate their time to help the students. The students in need of their help could total into the thousands, as the district is the second largest in the nation.
Each lawyer would represent one student at a time for around one to three hours per week. Already, 10 lawyers have expressed interest in donating their time for the cause.
While board members Tamar Galatzan and George McKenna did not agree with the plan at first, citing a possible misuse of district resources as well as singling out one particular legal need, McKenna eventually agreed to vote in favor of the program. Galatzan was the only board member to vote against it.
An interview discovered that L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines shared the concerns of the two board members. He was not involved in board discussions, writes Howard Blume for The LA Times.
However, general counsel David Holmquist said he had faith in the program, adding that LA Unified volunteers would work with experts in the field and district staff may be consulted for support. He believes the cost to the district will be minimal, as students who remain in the district will increase funding. "I have every expectation that this will work."
Statistics from LA Unified show the number of unaccompanied minor immigrants across the US to has risen from fewer than 8,000 in 2011 to over 57,000 in 2014. Of those, over 95% were from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. While most are between the ages of 15 and 17, some are as young as 5, reports Thomas Himes for The Los Angeles Daily News.
A district report showed over 3,000 of those immigrant children to have been released to sponsors in LA County last year, with many of them attending LA schools. By the end of October, there were 4,920 unaccompanied minors with cases pending in local immigration courts. Almost 75% did not have lawyer representation.
"A legal representation crisis has emerged," a report by district staff said. "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."
Research compiled by district staff shows that 73% of immigrant children who received representation were allowed to stay in the US. Meanwhile, only 15% of children who did not receive legal help stayed in the country.
In an article for KPCC, Stuart Palley asked viewers whether lawyers should in fact donate their time to help these immigrants. Current poll results show roughly equal responses. While 19 people have said they feel lawyers should donate their time, saying that the district is responsible for student safety, 20 people voted against the program, believing the district has limited resources and the program is outside its jurisdiction.