By Juan Calvillo
Frances Davila is helping undocumented students as an immigration attorney at both East Los Angeles Colleges’ Dream Resource Center and Rio Hondo College.
She attended the New York University School of Law and spent her time in college building solidarity within the latinx communities on campus.
In New York she worked with students, faculty and staff on immigration issues.
She said she moved back to Los Angeles to work with the latinx community where she was raised. This is how she found work at the Central American Resource Center.
Davila said connecting with the educational system and working with students was one of the reasons for her move back home.
“I feel like working in educational settings is a very fresh and critical lens into how you advocate within the community,” Davila said.
Her work with students in New York would come in handy as made her way to helping community college students for CARECEN.
She was given the chance to work with ELAC’s DRC and Rio Hondo college. She said the attention ELAC has given both immigrant and identity issues as a community college is impressive.
Davila said she feels lucky being born in the United States and understands the fears undocumented students have of losing family members to immigration problems.
She said fear of the legal system and immigration can lead to a mistrust of the system as a whole for people.
The DRC helps undocumented students in a variety of ways. Student ambassador Justine Miranda said that despite working only a month at the DRC she can see the good the department does and how the department creates a place for student support.
Miranda said what she sees is how impactful women are in the DRC.
Much of the staff are women, with their Dean and Faculty advisor both being women. Miranda said she has not worked with CARECEN or Davila but that there is leadership they provide for the DRC.
Previously the DRC legal aide was also from CARECEN and was also a woman.
Davila said there was a list of things that she and CARECEN can help ELAC students with. Students can get help with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals renewals and first time applications.
Students can also get information concerning immigration statuses for their parents or family members.
Davila said she can also help students on their way to getting a “Green Card.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website defines what a “Green Card” is in the following way.
“Having a Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card (PDF, 6.77 MB) allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. The steps you must take to apply for a Green Card will vary depending on your individual situation.”
Davila said there are certain things that are a bit more involved that they can help students with. She said one example, which CARECEN has seen more of recently, is filling out applications for Special Juvenile Immigrant Status.
“If you’re under 21 and you’re not married and you’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents, or one of them has passed away, there’s a way you can obtain legal status here in the US,” Davila said.
She said the complicated thing with this type of situation is that it goes through probate court first.
Then the information from that helps with the application for a visa.
CARECEN has been working with the ELAC DRC for sometime, and before the pandemic it was more face-to-face.
Since the pandemic things have changed. Davila said since the beginning of the pandemic things have been online for student meetings with lawyers.
She said this model will more than likely be retained, with the addition of walk-in meetings, when things return to in person education.
Davila said there is current a sigh of relief for undocumented people in general.
With President Joseph R. Biden’s current administration, there is a hope that many of the racist and unfair practices that occurred during the previous administration will change. She said undocumented people should stay hopeful, but that time is still needed for many of the old laws and procedures to change.
Davila said that despite the new laws helping a lot of other people are being left by the wayside. She said that undocumented people that have been lost in the criminal system and the ever present connection between that system and immigration are things that have yet been addressed.
Davila said the last couple of years had been tough, but that the immigrant communities had seen things like this before and continued on passing their experiences onward.
She said the strength of latinx, black, and asian communities and the resiliency of the families that make up these communities remains constant in the face of challenges.
“Passing on that generational knowledge is crucial at this time. So that we don’t repeat mistakes,” Davila said.