As the decade-long legal battle over the DREAM Act and legal protection for California’s undocumented population continues, Find Your Ally (findyourally.com) offers legal lifelines for some 50,000-70,000 undocumented community college students.
Find Your Ally –offered through the Higher Education Legal Services Project – is an unprecedented state-funded effort to provide all students enrolled in the California Community Colleges and their families with free immigration legal assistance, which includes the opportunity to have their DACA fees covered.
Students qualify whether full-time or part-time, taking credit or non-credit courses, dual enrollment, and adult ed courses.
In a briefing cosponsored by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and the Foundation for California Community Colleges, college students, college administrators, and statewide immigrant legal service experts will discuss what services are most crucial to helping immigrants achieve the future they want and what legal challenges they face.
Manoj Govindaiah is the Managing Attorney for Immigrant Legal Defense in Oakland, California which serves 34 of the 155 community colleges in the state.
There are 2 major obstacles when it comes to accessing legal services: finding quality lawyers, and once you do, being able to meet with the lawyer. For people in remote, rural areas, this can be especially challenging.
This program goes to the schools and accesses the students where they are, bringing the support to where it is needed, regardless of where in the state they are. “I can’t overestimate how hard the logistical challenges are,” says Govindaiah.
Through Find Your Ally (https://findyourally.com/), students can receive free immigration consultations, eligibility screenings, and case management services on campus, and are eligible to receive financial assistance for DACA renewal and Naturalization applications. These services are offered in different languages and settings, including in-person, virtual, and hybrid.
Legal services come at no cost to students, as the State of California covers them. Application fees for those requesting or renewing DACA status are also covered. Students enrolled at a California community college can conveniently schedule consultations with legal practitioners by booking an appointment at findyourally.com.
While the program is primarily designed to serve students, referrals can be provided on an as-needed basis for immediate family members. Services are also available to support California community college faculty and staff, as well as to students with dual enrollment, non-credit programs, and adult learners.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created some limitations that may vary by campus, the program is designed to support students on-site — a major benefit for students with busy class schedules and limited time or means to travel to legal service offices.
Common immigration legal support offered to students includes but is not limited to, screening for different forms of relief and support with DACA renewals, family-based petitions, and citizenship/naturalization requests. While providers are not currently funded to support asylum applications or removal defense, participating providers may offer referrals to other trusted direct service organizations. The services continue with the student regardless of when the affiliation ends with the California Community Colleges.
As of November 1, 2022, these legal services were expanded to include all 115 physical campuses of the California community colleges so that every student can access dedicated immigration legal services providers.