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Law students assist immigrants with ‘deferred action’ applications

Wake Forest University law students joined volunteer attorneys and community volunteers at the Winston-Salem Pro Bono Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  event on Nov. 10 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Overseeing the event was Professor Margaret Taylor, well known for her teaching and research on immigration law and policy.

The event saw volunteers of all kinds coming together to assist DACA applicants. Announced in June 2012 by President Obama, the DACA initiative seeks to offer “deferred action” to immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and meet other assorted specific requirements.

When an individual is granted deferred action, Homeland Security marks that person as a “low priority” for immigration enforcement. Though this means that Homeland Security has chosen to not deport the individual, deferred action only provides temporary relief, can be revoked at any time, and does not provide lawful immigration status or a shortened path to a green card or citizenship. Deferred action does provide work authorization to accepted individuals, facilitating their ability to further their education and help support their families.

The DACA Pro Bono event in November brought together 11 volunteer law students and one recent graduate to assist 15  DACA applicants. Over four hours, volunteers reviewed and analyzed the extensive information and documents involved in the application process. In addition to the law students, the North Carolina Justice Center provided logistical support, community volunteers from three area churches acted as greeters and translators, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hosted the event. Three experienced immigration attorneys, Mark Atkinson (’98), Penni Bradshaw and Marty Rosenbluth generously met individually with each applicant. In addition, Wake Forest University’s Institute of Public Engagement provided a mini grant, which allowed for food purchases, office supplies, and in-state travel.

Of course, while law student volunteers offered a tremendous service to a worthy cause, their experience at the Pro Bono event brought definite personal gratification as well.

“I am so glad that the Pro Bono Project included an immigration section as part of its initiatives this year,” said Ama Frimpong (’14), a volunteer law student and head of the Pro Bono Project’s immigration work, who also aided in coordinating immigration events and recruiting other students for this project. “There was definitely a huge need for it in the community, and students, especially 1Ls, were able to take advantage of the rewarding opportunities that became available to them through DACA and Naturalization clinics.”

Recent graduate Laura Dildine (’10), a former high school teacher and lawyer at Smith Moore Leatherwood in Greensboro, was happy to aid a project championed by her former professor and faculty adviser, Professor Taylor, especially one as reward as this.

“As the children and their parents attended the DACA event, I was struck by their courage and determination,” she said. ” Throughout my teaching career, my undocumented students exhibited this same courage and determination, but I was unable to help them open the door to deferred action, work permits, and social security numbers.  At long last, we volunteers at the DACA event were able to do just that.”

Clearly, the impact of the event was felt by more than just the aided applicants.

“Students are always looking for ways to gain practical experience, especially since there are students with an interest in and a passion for immigration law and public service in general,” said Frimpong. “We had fun participating in the events, and we are already looking forward to next semester’s immigration efforts.”