WLALA Fran Kandel Summer Fellowship Project Assists Undocumented Youth in Accessing Higher Education

By WLALA’s 2020 Fran Kandel Public Interest Recipient Olivia Loveland

November 2020

My passion for working in immigration law started during my undergraduate studies. I studied abroad for a summer in Istanbul, Turkey as the country was dealing with an influx of Syrian refugees. Afterwards, I took a course in international law and wrote my senior honors thesis on international refugee law and how it has been applied to the Syrian refugee crisis. I got a better understanding of the issues facing asylum-seekers in the U.S. while volunteering in Tijuana, Mexico at a legal NGO where I helped attorneys with client intakes. The financial support from the Fran Kandel Public Interest Fellowship for the summer of 2020 allowed me to pursue work in immigration deportation defense. I interned at The Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) where I worked specifically with unaccompanied minors in their deportation defense unit.

The fellowship also allowed me to conduct a project to help undocumented youth navigate the college application process. I created an informational brochure that consolidates complex policy information into a practical step-by-step guide for students in Spanish and English to empower them to make their own decisions about their higher education. The brochure clearly states who is eligible for financial aid, key deadlines for applications, and links to applications and to universities’ undocumented students web pages. The brochure will be used in the CARECEN Youth and Parent Department where staff run a program to help high school seniors with their university and financial aid applications. The brochure will also be on the CARECEN website so it can be used by others in the community.

Unaccompanied minors often wait five or more years to see a resolution to their case due to Government backlogs. During that time, many youth do not qualify for work permits or a social security number but may want to pursue further education. California has passed state legislation allowing students in these situations to be eligible for in-state tuition rates and state funded financial aid. However, the guidelines can be so confusing to understand that even some school counselors hold misconceptions about which visa holders are eligible for financial aid in California. A mistake in the application process can be adverse for a student–an incorrect aid application can result in losing all aid money a student was originally awarded causing them to delay school for another year. My goal was to create a resource that would make pursuing higher education less daunting.

At CARECEN, I advocated for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum and special immigrant juvenile status protection. I improved my advocacy skills as I worked one-on-one with clients. I learned their stories and the difficult decisions they made to flee their home countries in order to put together strong applications. This summer I also closely followed important decisions made by the Supreme Court and new proposed laws by the Government that greatly affect asylum. I believe in the international right to apply for asylum and other immigrant protections and am motivated to continue to advocate for those in the immigration system.

More information about Fran Kandel Fellows and links to their completed projects are available on the WLALA Foundation webpage at https://www.wlala.org/page/89.