The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education has approved a plan allowing district attorneys to accept voluntarily a limited number of deportation cases, without charge, involving unaccompanied children who live within the 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 trailblazing move would set a precedence not only in Los Angeles but elsewhere.
“This important initiative will meet an immediate and urgent need in our community,” said Board Vice President Steve Zimmer.
“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.”
Board Member Mónica García 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 District’s mission of keeping students in school, this action was taken to address the deluge of youngsters and teenagers 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 the L.A. Unified School District, although most of these students range in age from 15 to 17.
Ten district lawyers are expected to handle these cases, an average of one to three hours a week, in partnership with nonprofit organizations that specialize in this type of 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.
This initiative is expected to begin in spring. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, District staff will update results for board members.