The petite, 21-year-old student in the plaid shirt and jeans sitting across from attorney Karina Gutierrez is so nervous, she almost can’t remember her birth date. Behind her square-framed glasses, her eyes well with tears.
The expiration is nearing on her permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects certain immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work legally in this country. Renewals cost $495, and she doesn’t yet have the money.
Gutierrez listens. “So you have a lot going on right now, basically,” she says gently. “Why don’t I give you a legal assessment and we can go from there? And if you need a break, let me know.”
Gutierrez herself might need a break. At just after 11 a.m., she’s about three hours into a 13-hour day that started with wolfing down a few bites of instant oatmeal as she raced through emails and paperwork.
She’s one of 10 attorneys employed by the University of California’s Immigrant Legal Services Center, and as the Trump administration seeks to further curb immigration, her office in a quiet corner of a UC Riverside administration building has become one of many fronts in the ongoing national debate over who should have access to the American dream.
With federal courts weighing the fate of DACA and pitched partisan battles in Congress over border enforcement, California is spending $4 million over three years to fund free immigration legal assistance for UC students and their families. More than a quarter of the country’s 700,000 DACA recipients live in California.
In a redder state, taxpayers might object to a public university providing state-funded legal aid for clients that include unauthorized immigrants, not all of whom are students. But polls show more than eight Californians in 10 favor a path to legal status for undocumented residents.
By Felicia Mello for TIME OF SAN DIEGO
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