Student Legal Services sees increase in cases

Attorneys say landlord-tenant disputes and immigration issues have seen the biggest surge.

by Allison Cramer

University of Minnesota Student Legal Service has seen a 15 percent increase in cases compared to last fall.

SLS has been especially busy this year with landlord, rental and immigration cases, according to its director, Mark Karon. Staff are increasing the amount of time they spend with student clients as a result.

“A lot of that is based both on the changes in the executive orders … that have impacted immigration,” Karon said. “And then the other thing is landlord-tenant … There’s the issues that relate to out-of-state landlords, the complexity of leases, electronic signing, early termination dates and binding arbitration.”

SLS Attorney Linda Aaker said cases related to the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest have become the biggest demand on her time this year. The program, aimed at recruiting skilled foreign nationals into the military in exchange for citizenship, was suspended in 2016.

Many international students come in simply to make sure they’ll be able to return to the United States if they leave to attend a family event, Aaker said. Although they should have no problems re-entering the U.S. under current law, the current executive branch has a record of making unpredicted changes, she said.

Aaker said she’s seen more Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a federal program that provided relief from deportation for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children — cases this year, although the number is still small because the University is a relatively expensive school. President Donald Trump rescinded the program in September.

“While the number of DACA students may not be much higher, the problems they face are much more complex with profoundly higher consequences looming,” Aaker said. 

While these outside factors increase student interest in SLS, the office has also been attempting to promote awareness of its services to students, like free lease reviews, Karon said.

“We’re very busy, but we make adjustments,” Karon said. “We’re literally at a maximum here, but the staff is very good about accepting additional intake times.”

Freshman Audrey Kennedy wanted to use the free lease review services this fall, but said she wasn’t able to get in soon enough to meet her needs.

“I called them asking when their next appointment was and they said it was like two, three weeks from then, but the lease that I was trying to sign, I had to sign within the next three or four days,” Kennedy said.