In October 2021, with a grant through the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, the University of Wisconsin Law School launched a new center to support Wisconsin’s DREAMers, an all-encompassing term describing individuals who have lived in the United States without official lawful status since coming to the country as a minor.

Now, five months later, the Center is immersed in outreach efforts and projects to make resources more readily available. From free legal clinics to presentations and trainings, the Center supports students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, also referred to as DACAmented students, by providing access to culturally responsive legal representation, social services, and educational and career services.

Providing these resources in a comprehensive format is designed to ease the burden of some of the uncertainty experienced by undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, said Erika Rosales, director of the Center for DREAMers.

In addition to working directly with students, Center staff have also given several presentations and trainings to faculty and staff across campus, and created a resource-driven website, which highlights upcoming events as well as common concerns and questions, such as ‘What is DACA?,’ ‘How can I receive services?,’ and more. FAQs are available online in both English and Spanish.

“We understand the impact we can have just by supporting one DACA recipient,” said Rosales. “If just one student renews their DACA through our legal clinics, they can continue to use their driver’s license, they can continue to work with their employment authorization.”

According to Rosales, this person could be a single mother working in health care and wanting to go back to school, a graduate student of counseling psychology ready to graduate and support her Spanish-speaking immigrant community, or a factory worker wanting to get an associate’s degree in business management.

These are examples, but they are also “real stories of people in our community; a story of one and many at the same time,” Rosales continued.

Similarly, the impact of the Center informing one person on how to support DACA and undocumented students could have a large ripple effect, Rosales added. It’s an impact that Erin Barbato, director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic (IJC) at UW Law and a clinical instructor working alongside the Center, has witnessed not only for those receiving the Center’s services, but for the law students who participate in the work.

At UW Law, Barbato teaches second- and third-year law students to represent individuals in removal proceedings and with humanitarian-based immigration relief.

“The students and professors at the IJC run a monthly community clinic to provide free legal consultations to people with DACA,” explained Barbato. “We then provide pro bono representation for immigration legal needs including DACA renewals and other collateral applications that will provide pathways to citizenship. We also identify other needs that we can address at the Center including professional, educational, and mental health resources.”

Barbato said the Center will become an important resource for the community, especially since there is no organization in Wisconsin specializing in serving the legal needs of DACA recipients.

Center staff plan on hosting four more legal clinics this semester. To learn more about upcoming Center events, visit their website.

“There are many barriers that DACA recipients and undocumented students have to face,” said Rosales. “As a DACA recipient myself, I have had to navigate many of these barriers on my own, not knowing who to talk to or even who to trust. Our intention is to be a place for students who are facing barriers to turn to.”

Submitted by Law School News on March 18, 2022

This article appears in the categories: Features

Related employee profiles: Erika Rosales, Erin Barbato