Executive order prompts legal questions

University law students will help undocumented immigrants navigate Obama’s recent executive order.

Morgan Wolfe

President Barack Obama’s executive order last month to reform national immigration policy has jumpstarted demand for University of Minnesota legal services designed to aid undocumented immigrants.

The Law School’s Center for New Americans has seen a spike in legal inquiries since Obama’s Nov. 20 announcement to grant millions of unauthorized immigrants relief from deportation.

Benjamin Casper, the center’s director and a University Law School alumnus, said student employees will help educate the community about the reform and work cases involving undocumented immigrants as a result of the president’s actions.

“We are going to be a part of the mobilization to educate and prepare thousands of people in Minnesota to take advantage of [Obama’s plans],” Casper said. “It’s going to be a very large undertaking but will make a big difference.”

More than 90,000 undocumented immigrants who reside in Minnesota could be affected by Obama’s actions, which could shield about 4 million undocumented immigrants nationwide from deportation and grant them more rights.

The Law School’s Center for New Americans opened last year in anticipation of major immigration reform, Casper said. The center’s three immigration law clinics help immigrants who struggle with the legal system and can’t afford assistance.

The center’s law students work with pro bono programs from top Minnesota firms, like Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.

Opportunities for students to work at the center have quadrupled since it first opened its doors, Casper said, adding that he thinks the center’s role in offering legal services will strengthen with time.

Nick Bednar, president of Voices for Immigration Student Association, is a law student who works in the center’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, which represents asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution.

“It can be very difficult at times, hearing some of the stories about these peoples’ experiences,” he said, adding that he’s eager to see how the president’s executive action will affect Minnesota immigrants.

Michele Garnett McKenzie, advocacy director at the Advocates for Human Rights, works closely with the Center for New Americans on its education and outreach programs. She said the most pressing need is informing undocumented immigrants about how the executive order applies to them and how they can proceed.

“It’s going to require a communitywide collaboration and outreach to educate everyone on this policy,” Casper said.

Some professional associations are concerned about scammers trying to take advantage of uninformed immigrants, McKenzie said, adding that there are upcoming information workshops in Minneapolis to help prevent fraudulent activities.

Some University students will be intricately involved in the education process, McKenzie said.

“It’s going to be an exciting time for students, in particular, to get involved and change the discourse on immigration,” she said.

Casper said the new executive order will have a profound impact on both individual immigrants and their families.

“I think that it will change the politics of immigration, and it is certainly going to change the daily lives of tens of thousands [of] Minnesotans in a very good way,” Casper said.