San Jose colleges offer students immigration services
San Jose City College’s Advocacy Leadership for Immigrant Access Support Services (ALMASS) program offers students counseling, financial aid and referrals to obtain free immigration legal help. Photo by Alexandria Bordas.

    Community colleges want students to know free legal services are available to those in need of immigration assistance.

    The San Jose-Evergreen Community College District has programs for students and employees to receive immigration-related help for naturalizations, undocumented status and more. Advocates said the resources are crucial for AB 540 and DACA students who have uncertain immigration status and can ensure they have additional opportunities after college.

    DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program launched in 2012 that provides protection from deportation and work authorization to individuals who arrived in the United States before turning 16. AB 540 is legislation that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, as opposed to non-resident tuition, for higher education. Students must have attended high school in California for at least three years and graduated.

    San Jose City College’s Advocacy Leadership for Immigrant Access Support Services (ALMASS) program offers students counseling, financial aid and referrals to obtain free immigration legal help. The program serves DACA students and AB 540 students. ALMASS coordinator Fabio González said the program serves hundreds of local students annually.

    The program enables students to obtain employment or continue their education at another university, while destigmatizing the fear around being undocumented, he added.

    “We don’t want them to be living in the shadows. We want them to come out,” González told San José Spotlight. “Community colleges are the entryway to so many different populations in our society… Allowing the services to be here, it makes that opportunity for those folks to really reach for something bigger.”

    González said while community colleges have offered immigration help over the years, recent legislation, including AB 1645 which passed in 2019, provides added support. AB 1645 requires community colleges, CSUs and UCs to have designated staff to give undocumented students immigration, academic and financial assistance. He said the state also invests $10 million annually to ensure community college students, staff and faculty can access immigration help. Similar programs exist at Evergreen Valley College, De Anza College, Mission College and others.

    Mariana Barba, senior attorney for Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice & Empowerment, said community college students are at a pivotal time in their lives to address immigration issues.

    “It’s important that community college students resolve immigration concerns before moving away,” Barba told San José Spotlight. “For those who are preparing to enter the workforce as professionals, it’s important because immigration status is closely related to their ability to work. For those who transfer to four-year colleges or universities, they stand to benefit from federal grants and fellowships.”

    Nonprofit Latinos United for a New America (LUNA) focuses on immigration, civic engagement and housing. LUNA community organizer Yurina Guzman said there’s demand for free or low-cost immigration services in Santa Clara County. She said not having access to affordable legal support means fewer immigration cases cross the finish line.

    “Students would have to think, ‘Do I pay the legal fees or do I pay for university?’” Guzman told San José Spotlight in Spanish.

    Barba said the immigration system needs to consider legislation that applies to multiple generations. She said DACA generally serves young students, but does not consider the immigration status of parents or grandparents.

    “In order to move the needle a little more, we need legislation to also address the needs of the parent generation,” Barba told San José Spotlight. “Legislation that addresses the needs of a broader segment of the immigrant population will be beneficial.”

    González said the earlier students know about available resources, the better prepared they are for the future. He said educational institutions at all levels need to work together. Collaboration between community colleges and local high schools will help raise awareness, he added.

    “I remember being undocumented and being a freshman in high school. It was extremely painful, I was scared,” Gonzalez told San José Spotlight. “It’s critical for everybody.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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