Legal services program for undocumented students

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced today (Nov. 21) that UC will expand legal services to undocumented students at six campuses. The UC Davis School of Law will host a pilot legal services center that will serve the immigration-related legal needs of students on UC campuses without law schools: UC Merced, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Riverside.

The pilot program was created in response to a recommendation made by the President's Advisory Committee on Undocumented Students, a group of faculty, administrators and students appointed by Napolitano earlier this year.

The Undocumented Student Legal Services Center will provide high-quality legal assistance to support the needs of undocumented and AB 540-eligible students. The pilot project will be led by UC Davis faculty who are nationally renowned experts in immigration law, including Dean Kevin R. Johnson and professors Gabriel “Jack” Chin, Leticia Saucedo, Rose Cuison Villazor, Brian Soucek, Amagda Pérez and Holly Cooper, as well as professor emeritus Cruz Reynoso, former state Supreme Court justice.

“This pilot program is just the beginning,” Napolitano said. “We want to create a model for other UC campuses and universities across the nation to provide legal representation for undocumented students on their campuses.”

The program will operate out of the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic. One of the first of its kind in the nation, the program offers law students the opportunity to represent immigrants in immigration court and before immigration agencies under the direction of staff attorneys.

Services to UC students will include:

  • Legal clinics and processing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and DACA renewal applications, including applications related to the expansion of DACA announced by President Obama last night (Nov. 20)
  • Legal services advice and counseling to undocumented students
  • Informational and know-your-rights sessions
  • On-campus walk-in counseling and advice sessions
  • Training for students and volunteers in immigration services

“This groundbreaking program is a way for the University of California and UC Davis School of Law to assist undocumented UC students and help them to continue their educational journey,” said Dean Johnson. “These are the state’s future entrepreneurs, engineers, and community leaders, and we all benefit by ensuring that they can pursue the American dream.”

María Blanco will serve as executive director of the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center. Blanco has more than 20 years of experience as a litigator and advocate for immigrant rights. In previous roles, she worked at UC Berkeley School of Law, the California Community Foundation, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she played a key role in the passage of AB 540. She currently serves on the board of Public Policy Institute of California and is a commissioner on the California Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.

Immigration is a complex area of law requiring expertise often not readily available to immigrant communities. Undocumented and AB 540 students and their families face immigration-related barriers to their full integration on campuses and in their communities. Without legal representation, many fail to pursue benefits for which they may qualify. The principal goal of the pilot project center will be to close this gap in access to the legal system and ensure that AB 540 and undocumented students have the resources and support they need to succeed as scholars, students, and citizens of California.

Various services for undocumented students currently are available at UC campuses with law schools; the pilot program will help to design a structure that can be used at other campuses in the future.

For more information about the pilot program, please contact Karen Michele Nikos with UC Davis News and Media Relations at (530) 752-6101 or or Pamela Wu with the UC Davis School of Law at (530) 754-7173 or