Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Hiring a full-time immigration lawyer for the Undergraduate Student Legal Aid Office is long overdue.
In November 2016, a coalition of student groups called ProtectUMD sent 64 demands to University of Maryland administrators. The list included a demand for a full-time immigration attorney. DACA recipients and other undocumented students had legal needs that weren't being met by the occasional appointment with a visiting attorney. Almost a year later, they are still fighting for university administration to seriously consider their request.
In that time things have only gotten worse. The Trump administration proposed a plan to phase out DACA, threatened those with temporary protected status and spearheaded a racist approach to immigration policy. Many students now have limited time to adjust to these policy changes. They may have to apply for special juvenile status or have a family member file for them.
With more students at risk, ProtectUMD is continuing to push for a full-time immigration lawyer. The university's current accommodations remain woefully inadequate. Right now, a lawyer is brought in once a month for eight total appointments, and students are only allowed to make one appointment per academic year. There are currently 132 students covered by DACA at this university, and countless others are in need of legal aid. Eight appointment slots are not enough.
President Loh's response to the hiring request was not reassuring. He suggested the university would not consider the request and added, "A legislator can say, 'Well, you know, there are a lot of poor students who need help with divorce. Are you going to provide them with a lawyer to represent them in court?' … Now, this is different — this is not divorce. But, you see, the difference is that we don't have a law school."
This quote is borderline incoherent for several reasons. First, equating divorce with immigration law is a ridiculous comparison that dismisses the struggle of immigrants and ignores the legal burdens placed upon them. It also seems President Loh is under the impression that many students are not only getting married, but also seeking divorce during their undergraduate years.
He then pivots to a confusing claim that we do not have a law school. When he remembers that this university does indeed have a law school in Baltimore, he adds, "Somebody needs to pick up the phone and go and talk to them." It does not seem to occur to him to do this himself.
Loh's statements display a deep ignorance to the needs of his students. But where the administration has failed, others are stepping up. Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society raised $3,000 — and private donations brought in $2,000 — for undocumented student assistance. Our administration needs to follow their lead and protect our most vulnerable.
Hiring a full-time immigration lawyer would be both practical help to hundreds of students and a symbol that the school is taking their needs seriously. If, as a university, we truly value the safety of our immigrant students we need to start showing it. Providing a lawyer to help them remain in this country would be a good place to start.
Jack Lewis is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.