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LAUSD lawyers to aid students facing deportation

Pro-immigration protesters' signs lay on the ground in Los Angeles during a rally on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.
Pro-immigration protesters' signs lay on the ground in Los Angeles during a rally on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.
Stuart Palley/KPCC

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Los Angeles Unified School District's attorneys will help about a dozen students facing deportation following the school board's approval Tuesday of a limited program providing free legal services. 

Cases are expected to include children who came to the United States during an influx of immigrants last year from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

"We have a particular, discreet and urgent need that directly affects our kids, directly affects our schools," said board member Steve Zimmer. 

About 3,000 children lack attorneys to advocate for them in Los Angeles Immigration Court, according to district documents distributed in January, but not all of them attend L.A. Unified. 

Experienced, outside legal advocates will provide mentorship to the district's attorneys and recommend student cases through the new program called Advocating for Youth Unaccompanied in Deportation Actions.

LAUSD's efforts follow Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of a bill in September that provides $3 million to nonprofits offering free legal assistance to children in immigration cases. The district may seek state funds in the future, but school attorneys will initially work on a volunteer basis. 

"This is really a call to action," said David Holmquist, head of LAUSD's general counsel.

School board member George McKenna expressed concern that the district could be setting a precedent in offering free legal services. He argued it may be difficult to turn away other student immigration cases or those involving other legal issues such as truancy or probation. 

“We don’t have enough resources to do all that needs to be done, and we never will," McKenna said, adding many of the district's legal duties are already outsourced to local law firms.

Board member Monica Ratliff said she would be open to LAUSD’s lawyers offering their services beyond deportation issues.

“I think this a real opportunity for us to see what’s possible. How many ways can we make a difference?” Ratliff said. 

The proposal passed 6 to 1, with board member Tamar Galatzan dissenting. 

Holmquist promised to update the school board on the attorneys' caseloads in June.