For many undocumented seniors at Washington State University, the excitement and pride they feel before graduating is often accompanied with anxiety about how their immigration status will impact their ability to work in the United States.
One such senior on the Pullman campus has been waiting six years for her application for U.S. residency to be reviewed and has no idea when or if it will happen. The student, who asked to remain anonymous, was born in Mexico and moved to Washington with her parents in 2012 to escape violence in her hometown and have access to better educational opportunities.
With her college days coming to an end soon, she fears her residency application is doomed by the ever-changing political climate and delays brought by the pandemic. But a meeting with a representative of the Immigration Litigation and Appellate Clinic at the University of Idaho (UI) gave her new hope that her case may not be dead.
Thanks to a unique partnership between WSU’s Undocumented Initiatives and the UI College of Law, students like her across the WSU system have free access to immigration consultations that help them navigate the complex immigration process.
“The services provided by this program allow us to be heard,” she said, referring to undocumented students. “If I didn’t have access to them, I would be in the dark not knowing what to do or who I can trust.”
She said it was a relief meeting with someone who is familiar with how the immigration process works and the obstacles she may face, and who genuinely believes what she is working toward matters.
“As undocumented students, many of us have this sense that we need to do everything on our own because no one is there to help us,” she said. “This service is very important because immigration issues are complex, and the process is long.”
Impact can be life changing
The partnership began in 2016 and gives students access to free, trustworthy immigration advice. Marcela Pattinson, director of WSU’s Undocumented Initiatives, said the advice and services students receive through the partnership have the potential to be life changing.
“Sometimes students are asked to pay for services that should be free, or if a fee is justified, the lawyer doesn’t deliver the service or provide good advice,” Pattinson said. “It is important for students to have access to legal experts they can trust, and who aren’t trying to take advantage of them.”
Geoffrey Heeren, director of the Immigration Litigation and Appellate Clinic and UI associate professor of law, said the eight law students in his clinic are helping WSU students, including international students, tackle a wide range of immigration issues.
“On any given week, we might meet with a refugee who needs advice on filing for asylum, or a student interested in applying for an employment-based visa, or someone exploring how to get a green card by being married to a U.S. citizen,” Heeren said. “It has been a tremendous growth opportunity to work with students, and WSU has done an amazing job of creating a safe and supportive environment for them.”
A special collaboration
As part of the partnership, Heeren and his team conduct several workshops each year for the WSU system on immigration topics and new legislation. Heeren also attends La Bienvenida, WSU’s annual orientation for Spanish-speaking students and their families. In return, Pattinson provides professional development workshops for UI faculty and staff on best practices for supporting undocumented students.
Both Pattinson and Heeren said the UI/WSU partnership is an amazing opportunity for everyone involved.
“I don’t know of another partnership like it involving a law school clinic and a center for undocumented students,” Heeren said. “I think it’s a special collaboration and I’m really proud of it.”