Law Students Give Up Spring Break to Help Undocumented Immigrants Apply for Special Status


NBC Channel 6 reporter Julia Bagg interviewing Miami Law student Amanda Roesch. (Photo: Catharine Skipp/Miami Law) 

For some students, there are better things to do during spring break than to head for Key West and frolic on Duval Street.

Amanda Roesch, 2L, and a half-dozen other members of Miami Law's Immigration Clinic are making plans to join colleagues from other Florida law schools to fan out across the state for five days next week to help undocumented immigrant youths apply for a temporary immigration status. The pro-bono trip will involve going to Naples, Tampa, Lakeland, Gainesville and Orlando to establish quick-hit clinics so that applicants can sign up for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known by the acronym DACA.

"Helping young people obtain this critical benefit is an important step toward pursuing positive change in our communities," Roesch said. "There are so many young people out there who deserve this benefit. Without these legal clinics, they might not apply."

The status conferred by the DACA program can lead to a driver's license, a work permit, and access to college. Anyone who is between the ages of 15 and 29, has lived in the United States since at least 2007, has completed or is enrolled in school, and does not have serious criminal convictions is eligible to apply.

During a press conference at Miami Law on Wednesday morning, Roesch and other students gave details of the project, which involves community activists and immigrant advocates from FL Dream, Students Working for Equal Rights, DREAMers' Moms, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and Own the Dream Campaign. The upcoming trip follows the success of 15 clinics in south Florida that have helped approximately 1,200 young people.

"The legal clinics are a model for showing how law students, lawyers, and organizers can work together on a common cause," said Rebecca Sharpless, an Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Immigration Clinic. "This project is fertile ground for students to develop skills and relationships that will last a lifetime."

Alexandra Friz, a second-year Miami Law student whose ancestry is Chilean, said that members of her family had struggled while "living in the shadows" as undocumented immigrants in this country. "That's why it's personal to get involved in immigration," she said. Friz added that the trip around the Florida communities will be "a really important opportunity to help young dreamers," a term often used to describe immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as infants or children without documentation, and who wish to remain and become productive members of American society. Friz said also that the endeavor on behalf of the immigrants would help her and other students "expand our legal skills."

Paulina Valanty, 2L, a Chilean who was undocumented herself when she arrived in the U.S. but whose status has since been resolved, said her experience had strongly influenced her choice of a career. "Now I'm going to become an immigration attorney because of that," she said.

The other Miami Law students who have joined next week's project are José Vazquez, 1L, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States 12 years ago; Próspero Castellanos, 2L, whose ancestry is Honduran; Trey Dahl, 1L; and Ellen Dumas, 2L.

José Diaz, an undergraduate student at Florida International University and the director of FL Dream, said the project was being viewed through the twin lenses of legal education and community advocacy. "My hope is that this will be an enriching experience for both the community and the law students," he said. "Each will learn the endless possibilities that can be created by working together."

The students from Miami Law and FIU College of Law will be joined by others from Florida A&M University, Ave Maria University, Stetson University and Florida Coastal School of Law.

Click here to learn more about DACA, this initiative and its partners.

Click here to read a Tampa Bay Times article about Miami Law student Paulina Valanty’s experience as an undocumented immigrant.