DREAMing For A Better Future

The DREAM Program lends legal assistance to undocumented students on campus looking for a future

DREAMing For A Better Future

For many undocumented students, deportation is a scary possibility looming over the achievements of their college careers. With Mt. SAC’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors DREAM Program, these students find not only a loving community of educational, mental and social support, but free legal services to help with protecting their immigration status.

The DREAM Program, which can be found within the Equity Center, provides free legal counsel with an attorney specializing in immigration disputes.

According to Student Services employee Maria Tejeda, a 20-year-old business administration and sociology major, DREAM’s lawyer can fulfill Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals DACA renewals, as well as other counsel.

“It varies per case because she’s an immigrations lawyer, so we do strictly try to stay towards [immigration issues],” Tejeda said about the legal services the attorney offers to DREAMers.

With a $495 application fee and the weight of possible rejection, there is a lot of pressure riding on undocumented immigrants in applying for DACA renewal correctly and on time. For undocumented students, having a lawyer who is familiar with this process and aware of the fine print can be very valuable.

Karla Estrada, 28 years old and an alumna of Mt. SAC who helped create the vision of the DREAM Program, has said that “access to legal information, advice and services is one of the leading issues in our undocumented community.” In helping to establish the DREAM Program, Estrada, who came to the United States at five years old, and other Mt. SAC alumni envisioned a “place that would offer financial aid resources and a safe space to talk about our community and act,” including the freedom to talk about and receive help for mental health, which can be stigmatized in Latinx families.

The DREAM Program’s attorney, Lizbeth Mateo, has her own private immigration firm in Los Angeles in addition to the work she does with Mt. SAC students. Mateo herself came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant at fourteen. According to The Washington Post, Mateo made history by becoming the first undocumented immigrant to be appointed to a statewide post within California, serving on an “advisory committee that seeks to improve access to college for low-income California students.”

These legal services are open to all members of the DREAM Program, and membership is open to undocumented students and allies alike. Mt. SAC’s DREAM Program was established on July 1, 2015 and has since become a safe space for undocumented students to grow in their educational journeys. The program was created in accordance with the California DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to apply for financial aid at UCs, CSUs, and California community colleges. In addition to free legal services, a full-time counselor is available to provide other support services, including peer-to-peer mentoring and “academic, career, and personal counseling.”

Though these are the only in-person legal resources that the DREAM Program provides, legal advice and referrals to other local legal services are available on the DREAM website. While the information online is not a substitute for official counsel with an attorney, it can be helpful to undocumented immigrants in recognizing what legal rights one has and explaining new laws affecting DREAMers in California.

Curran & Berger LLP, an immigration law office based in Massachusetts, advises “pro se” DREAMers– DREAMers that do not have official legal representation–to find an attorney who specializes in immigration cases, whether that be the DREAM Program’s own attorney, an attorney from a low-cost non-profit agency, or a private immigration attorney. While non-profit agencies do the most they can to provide relief and aid to immigrants in need of legal counsel, Curran & Berger LLP suggests consulting a private immigration attorney who “might be more knowledgeable” about special circumstances in case-by-case immigration disputes.

To utilize these free on-campus legal services, DREAM students must make an appointment to meet one-on-one with the attorney. This can be done through visiting Building 16E, the Equity Center, or calling the program at (909) 274-5596.