Volunteer lawyers make personal connection with Minnesota immigrant students

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“You might not believe this about lawyers, but we do appreciate when we can help individuals,” said Ed Wegerson, a volunteer attorney who has participated in the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s (ILCM) Pro Bono DREAMer Project. He has helped two young women who had come to the United States as children obtain deferred action status. Both of these clients now plan to continue their college studies in business, one at the graduate school level.

Wegerson reported, “They were just grateful to come out of the shadows — to have a DREAM card, apply for a job and have a correct social security number and eliminate that fear of deportation.” Wegerson was attracted to the project as it offered him “the ability to help an individual directly—frankly, a lot of what I do in law has to do with a lot of abstract concepts — taxes, business …” He enjoyed the program because it allowed him to “help someone in a way that’s personal and important to them.”

According to the ILCM’s description of the project,

“ILCM trains and mentors attorneys to represent immigrants in their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) cases. DACA is a new immigration remedy being offered to undocumented immigrant youth. On June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that deferred action would be offered to certain immigrant youths, often referred to as DREAMers, who have fulfilled certain educational requirements or served in the military, and met other specified conditions. It is estimated that nationwide, as many as 1.4 million people ages 15-30 could potentially benefit from this remedy. In Minnesota alone, the estimates of potentially eligible individuals are in the thousands.”

Anne Applebaum, Pro Bono Director at ILCM described the initial response to the Pro Bono DREAMer Project as “phenomenal … the response was amazing. Our partners’ support was unconditional with open arms.” She said that, “Since the president’s announcement ILCM has trained over 100 volunteers to represent clients through the DREAMer Project. Currently, over 185 pro bono DACA cases have been placed with volunteer attorneys for full representation and approximately 70 have already been approved.” The clients themselves are reportedly quite enthusiastic in their appraisal of the project. According to Applebaum, “Not only have the clients been extremely dedicated … they’ve expressed that this has changed their lives a lot for the better.”

Attorney Ed Wegerson (Photo courtesy of Lindquist & Vennum)

 

Wegerson explained that though he is not an immigration attorney, two key factors made it easier for him to participate. The ILCM “did a very good job of explaining the program and the things a non-immigration lawyer wouldn’t know. I did feel pretty confident after the training.” In addition, his clients’ dedication made the experience much easier. He stated, “They came very well prepared. That made our job a little easier.” Wegerson said that the clients themselves gathered approximately 150 documents to support their applications.

Attorney David March, who is also participating in the Pro Bono DREAMer Project, said of his clients, “They’re all very well educated and very smart and they all contribute to their communities. They’re active in their churches almost without exception. They’re volunteering for them.” He is currently working on one DREAMer pro bono case. March said he was drawn to the DREAMer project because most of his clients had had no idea they were undocumented until later in childhood. He described the typical story he has heard from clients, “They’re mostly young kids who had no idea they were in this country illegally and it wasn’t until they were going to apply for a driver’s license or apply for college that their parents sat them down and said, ‘When you were two years old we came here illegally.’”

One of the reasons March has enjoyed his work with the project is “One of the things they’re excited about is that they’re all living in a lot of poverty, but once an applicant is granted deferred status their income potential and their employment opportunities change dramatically … This literally changes the trajectory of their lives. It means that they can go to college, it means that they can have careers — professional careers … that changes so much.”

Daniel Perez (photo courtesy of Daniel Perez)


Graduate student Daniel Perez, who was one of the ILCM clients in the DREAMer Project, received deferred status on January 25. Perez described this process as, “Life changing. It’s just one of those things- we never expected President Obama to do that but once it happened it was like having a ray of hope. And then (after getting deferred status) it was like you could hold that ray of hope in your hand. It’s a sign that change is coming.”

While studying for a dual master’s degree in social work and family social science, Perez had been offered a research assistant position in social work in the past but had been unable to accept the position due to his undocumented status. More recently, he was offered another research assistant position in Family Social Science and was able to accept. He received his work card and social security number just in time to accept his new position in February of 2013. He commented, “Without DACA this wouldn’t have been possible. It was the first step in allowing me to pursue the American Dream — being able to work in the field I chose to go into.”

 

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