LA Unified lawyers will start taking on student deportation cases on a pro-bono and volunteer basis, making it the first school district in the country to represent immigrant children.
Under the new legal program called AYUDA — that’s Spanish for “help” — district lawyers will provide legal aid to a small number of unaccompanied minors at their deportation proceedings, beginning in April. The cases will be pre-screened by outside organizations with expertise in immigration law and will not interfere with the day-to-day duties of the district’s attorneys.
Approval of that program and a resolution involving farm workers in the Central Valley, highlighting an otherwise routine board meeting yesterday, demonstrated the members’ eagerness to assume a more holistic approach to issues affecting students and families even if it has no direct bearing on improving standardized test scores, closing the achievement gap or boosting high school graduation rates.
Nonetheless, the district made clear that it was not hesitant to step in policy areas generally left to other government agencies when the issues intersect with the lives of those living within its boundaries.
But concerns were raised, as well, prior to each vote of approval. Board member George McKenna was especially eloquent, asking where to draw the line when opportunities present themselves to aid students and their families. While expressing support for the immigration help, he wondered it the district were over stepping its responsibility to students, setting an untenable precedent.
“There have been numerous times in the past when our children and their families have needed support and this is the first time I have heard of this district representing itself as being the respondent to legal services pro-bono,” he told the board.