Young immigrants vow to fight Trump's halt of program

DACA supporters march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to protest shortly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will be suspended with a six-month delay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Phoenix. President Donald Trump on Tuesday began dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, the government program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Matt York

The growing uncertainty faced by immigrants — both for those in the U.S. legally and those who are not — has created a secondary effect at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Law.

Interest in immigration law is on the rise since President Donald Trump took office in January and immediately signed an order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S.

“It’s what I would call the ‘Trump bump,’” said Kevin Ruser, a clinical professor who oversees Nebraska Law's legal clinics.

UNL law students have used grants from the U.S. Department of Education to work with immigrants since President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 legalizing those who entered the U.S. illegally before 1982.

The Immigration Clinic broke from UNL's Civil Clinic in 1998, separating students who provide advice on a wide range of issues that go before civil courts from students taking a deep dive into a complex immigration system each year.

Ruser said that while a few students have interest in the Immigration Clinic each year, the transition of power to a new president who ran a campaign critical of immigration helped spike interest in the program.

"We've had 14 second-year students express interest in the Immigration Clinic next year," he said. "The class in their second year now has a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants, many from Spanish-speaking cultures, and they are all very interested in it."

While the political environment may have generated new interest in the Immigration Clinic, the three students currently serving in the clinic say their job is to cut through the rhetoric to help their clients.

On Sunday, Morgan Nelson, Phong Tran and Miranda Rogers hosted a legal clinic for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in the Marvin and Virginia Schmid Clinic Building that opened earlier this year — the first clinic to be hosted in the new facility.

The Trump administration announced on Sept. 5 it was ending the Obama administration program that protects nearly 800,000 undocumented youth brought into the country illegally as children from being deported while also giving them permission to work.

As the program is ended, the Trump administration said DACA recipients whose permits expire before March 5 can apply for a renewal by Oct. 5, and Democratic leaders have signaled a desire to work with the president on passing legislation to protect those young immigrants.

Shortly after the announcement, UNL said it would host a legal clinic in conjunction with the Mexican Consulate for DACA recipients to help them in renewing their permits or seek to understand their options.

"That's why we're all here — to help those we can help," Tran said. "We're here to let people know their rights and what their options are as far as immigration law."

It's not clear how many DACA recipients live in the Lincoln area. Colleges and universities do not request that information on applications, and those students are not required to reveal their status.

But the Immigration Clinic believes many of the so-called Dreamers planning to renew their permits before Oct. 5 already have, Nelson said.

"I think the people who are eligible to renew have taken advantage of it," she said. "We're here to facilitate and help those who maybe haven't done a renewal yet, or who are looking to get some assistance during this time."

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The opportunity to provide legal assistance at a time of change is an exciting learning experience and chance to offer help to those in need, each of the clinicians said.

"Just because of the way immigration law exists, it's subject to change every four years," said Nelson, a West Point native. "Every administration changes immigration laws, and I think that's one of the reasons I find it interesting."

The constant changes to immigration law — as well as some of the heated dialogues surrounding the issue and the confusion it can introduce — represents a need for professionals who understand it.

"It's really important to be able to explain to people what is going on and how you can help them," Rogers said.

Tran, who immigrated to Lincoln from Vietnam with his parents, said the importance of working with others on these issues is demonstrated in the consequences.

"What happens really impacts peoples' lives," he said. "Especially when you have an administration change or a policy change that affects a million people — that matters a lot.

"If you want to help people and be there for people, right now is a good time to go into immigration law," Tran added.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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