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Amid Obama's Immigration Order, UC Expands Legal Services For Immigrant Students

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) -- The University of California is planning to offer legal services at six campuses to students who are living in the U.S. illegally or have parents who might be eligible for deportation relief under President Barack Obama's new immigration order, UC President Janet Napolitano announced Friday.

The pilot program designed to make legal advice available to immigrant students at UC campuses without law schools will be staffed by recent law school graduates working under the guidance of an experienced immigration attorney and faculty at the University of California, Davis, which has operated an immigration law clinic since the 1980s, said Kevin Johnson, the dean of the law school at Davis.

The idea came out of an advisory committee Napolitano named after she became UC president last year and her previous role as homeland security secretary sparked protests among immigrant rights activists who opposed the increase in deportations under her watch. University spokeswoman Brooke Converse said the project has been in the works for several months and that Napolitano's office is providing $577,860 to fund it.

"We want to create a model for other UC campuses and universities across the nation to provide legal representation for undocumented students on their campuses," Napolitano said in a statement.

The university estimates it had 2,000 undergraduates and 1,100 graduate students enrolled last year who are in the U.S. illegally, Converse said.

Claremont Graduate University education professor William Perez, who is part of the panel that has been advising Napolitano on immigration issues affecting students, said that many of those students could apply to have their deportations suspended under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Obama initiated in 2012 and which was overseen by Napolitano.

Because the application process is complicated, many students have not applied, and that is something with which the university's new Undocumented Student Legal Services Center could assist them, Perez said.

The center also will be well-positioned to help students apply for the grants and loans the state of California is making available to students who are ineligible for federal financial aid because of their immigration status, he said.

"These are among the brightest students in the country, the UC system has that reputation, and this particular group of students has a challenge that is unique to their circumstances," Perez said. "In the same way that colleges and universities provide financial aid services, help with admission and applying and college counseling, it is all to insure access, to make sure no one who is admitted is excluded from pursuing their education goals."

The campuses being targeted are located in Merced, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Riverside. Johnson said the goal is to have the program operating early next year, by which time he and other legal experts will have a better sense of how the actions Obama announced Thursday might benefit students.

"There is more work to do. But it is a good thing because there is more relief for the students and their families," Johnson said. He added that Napolitano "was quite confident the president was going to do something on immigration, and she was quite right."

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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