California Community Colleges Offer Free Immigration Legal Services to Students

The Higher Education Legal Services Project provides free and confidential immigration legal services to students, staff, and faculty in the California Community Colleges system.
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Published on May 5, 2023
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  • Students, staff, and faculty in the California Community Colleges system have access to free and confidential immigration legal services through the Higher Education Legal Services Project.
  • Legal service providers can help with basic immigration questions, naturalization, legal permanent residency, and DACA renewals.
  • Services carry over until a resolution is found, even if a student has graduated from the community college.

The California Community Colleges (CCC) system wants to get the word out: Free immigration legal services are available to students, staff, and faculty.

The Higher Education Legal Services Project was launched in 2019 through an annual investment from the state of California of $10 million to provide legal services at all 116 community colleges in California.

The project is supported through a statewide effort by the California Community Colleges, the Foundation for California Community Colleges, and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to connect eligible individuals with confidential and reputable immigration legal service providers.

Alonso Garcia, senior program manager at the Foundation for California Community Colleges, oversees the Higher Education Legal Services Project. He told BestColleges that the program does everything from general immigration consultations to workshops and presentations for the community.

Our services range from just a general consultation from Am I eligible for anything in terms of relief options, to I have questions about my immigration status, or I have questions about a petition that was filed for me and I just wanted to get a second opinion, he explained.

The program also helps with naturalization and citizenship applications, legal permanent residency, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals, family-based petitions, and advance parole.

However, services do not include removal defense or asylum applications, according to the website.

Eligibility Requirements for California's Higher Education Legal Services Project

CCC students, including dual-enrollment students, noncredit course students, and adult education students, staff, and faculty are eligible for legal assistance through the program. Additionally, naturalization and DACA renewal application fees are covered by the service.

Once an individual meets with one of the legal service providers partnering with the project, all the information collected and services provided stays with that attorney, regardless of when the individual's affiliation ends with CCC, according to Garcia.

Immigration relief doesn't happen overnight or doesn't happen in one visit, or it can take anywhere from six months to five years or 20 years depending on what that looks like, he explained.

We will continue to pay the attorney to support their case until there is a resolution. Either there is a form of relief available to them, or, for one reason or another, they're not eligible for relief and their case gets closed out, we'll continue to support them with an attorney time throughout the duration of their involvement.

Four of the 10 legal organizations partnered with the Higher Education Legal Services Project also provide support to the California State University (CSU) system. For students at a University of California (UC) campus, there are additional services available free of charge through each campus's respective law school.

Helping Undocumented Students In California “#FindYourAlly”

Since its inception, over 7,500 individuals have received some form of legal consult from the Higher Education Legal Services Project. However, that is only a fraction of the number of students who could benefit from this resource.

Pre-pandemic, California Community Colleges estimated there were between 79,000 and 90,000 undocumented students across all 116 campuses. However, as of last fall, that estimate had dropped to 40,000-50,000 undocumented individuals, although the numbers could be skewed since the system does not track undocumented students, according to Garcia.

According to the CCC chancellor's office, CDSS funded an expansion of the Higher Education Legal Services effort for 2021 and 2022 through the #FindYourAlly awareness campaign, hoping to make more individuals aware of how to access the free services that are available to them through the CCC system.

Students seeking immigration legal help can make an appointment online on the FindYourAlly website. Appointments are available in-person and online to accommodate the individual's needs.

Each of the 10 legal service providers works with different campuses of the CCC, and demand is high all around, leading to wait times to access services.

We are seeing a lot of demand. So some of our organizations are booked out a few weeks to sometimes a few months in advance, Garcia said. But if [someone] needs an appointment sooner, they can connect with [a provider] directly. All of the contact information for each of the organizations and their respective college campuses are listed on our website as well.