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TULAP Hires Lawyer to Help Tulanians Facing Immigration Woes

February 09, 2018 3:04 AM

In a continued expansion of Tulane Law School’s offerings relating to immigration law, the Tulane University Legal Assistance Program (TULAP) has hired its first immigration attorney and is now offering aid to students, staff, and faculty facing legal challenges relating to their immigration status. Marco Balducci, long-time immigration lawyer both in private practice and with Catholic Charities of New Orleans, Balducci will work with law students helping Tulanians facing a myriad of immigration issues and questions. Among them are expected to be students and scholars affected by the Trump Administration’s travel ban, those with visa lapses or changes, and of more immediate concern, “Dreamers,” those who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and risk losing their protected status as of March 5. “If I had to measure our success a year from now,” said Balducci, a partner with Pelton & Balducci in New Orleans, “it would be that the program has earned the trust of the Tulane community and has enhanced the sense of welcome, safety, and empowerment of all members, irrespective of immigration status. Noncitizen members of the community will know that their school prioritizes making accurate and useful immigration information accessible, and has facilitated their access to legal representation in their immigration case should that be necessary.“ Balducci’s hiring was made possible by support from Tulane University, following a campus forum on the needs of Tulane’s international community led by the University’s Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS). Other campus organizations, including the Undocumented Student Support Committee, felt one major need was legal representation.

“One of the things that got the most votes [in the forum] was the need for an immigration counsel,” said Kristy Magner, OISS director. “It was clear people had immigration questions and they felt the students needed an attorney.” Professor Laila Hlass, Director of Experiential Learning at Tulane Law School, said opportunities for pro bono work in immigration are in high demand among law students. An already-growing interest in immigration law has only increased since last year’s executive order temporarily barring citizens from some Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. An expert in immigration law, Hlass this semester is co-teaching a course (at maximum enrollment) in which students are working with real clients and members of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. Hlass and Mary Yanik, an attorney and adjunct Tulane Law professor, are supervising students as they prepare and file immigration applications for victims of serious crimes, including human trafficking.  Hlass is seeking to expand the immigration curriculum to meet the demand. “Our students, especially those interested in public service, really want to opportunities to work with these vulnerable populations,” said Hlass, who also chairs the Immigration Counsel sub-committee of Tulane’s International Partners Outreach Group, the university-wide coalition working on behalf of international, undocumented and DACA students.

Magner’s office sees the need on Tulane’s campus every day for legal assistance for immigrants and international students. And while the nature of these issues keeps some from coming forward, she expects the demand for assistance to be steady. “We probably refer at least two cases every week to seek immigration attorneys,” she said. “I expect that will continue.” And that’s where Balducci and law students will provide their services through TULAP. That’s because OISS’s role is to manage immigration compliance for the university and advise individuals about maintaining their status as they work or study at Tulane.   “Once other issues come into play, whether they expect a change in status or are concerned about travel outside the country on Tulane-related work, or will be switching from one type of visa to another, or seek permanent legal resident status – those are areas where they need an immigration attorney. That is where Marco and TULAP will help,” she said. Other populations at Tulane who will benefit from immigration counsel include individuals in other visa statuses not served by the OISS and documented and undocumented students.

 Students with immigration fears say Tulane's efforts will go a long way to helping them feel secure on campus.

A PhD candidate at one of Tulane’s Liberal Arts programs who asked for anonymity to speak freely said she knows first-hand what living in fear over immigration status looks like. Once an undocumented child, she moved to the U.S. from Colombia with her parents to help her brother, who had survived the Sept. 11 collapse of the Twin Towers.

While her parents quickly became legal residents, her change in status would take seven years. She wasn’t fully legal in the U.S. until she was 19.

A promising student, she sought out private schools and merit-based scholarships, because she would not qualify for any government-backed student loans.  She struggled to find work, setting for a job as a waitress.

 “And then one day we heard ICE would be coming to the restaurant,” she said. “So I stayed home. That eventually put me at odds with my manager. The job didn’t last long.”

She thinks the demand for TULAP’s immigration assistance will have significant demand at Tulane.

“Undocumented and DACA students are so fearful, so afraid of being singled out as different from everyone else,” she said. “They really protect their status. This is why we must create an environment to educate faculty, students and staff and bring some of these students out of the shadows. They need to hear that they have allies here at Tulane, and then they will come.”

For more information, contact TULAP.