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DACAmented Law Students and Lawyers in the Trump Era


Washington, D.C. — A feeling of uncertainty has invaded most every aspect of life for DACA recipients pursuing legal careers since President Donald Trump took office, according to a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress and the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law. The brief highlights the complex experiences of nearly three dozen law students and lawyers with DACA and provides policy recommendations to help support these individuals in their education and chosen profession.

The brief includes quotes drawn from interviews with the 33 DACAmented lawyers and current or aspiring law students capturing the following common themes: the uneasiness they face in their lives; their overwhelmingly positive and determined attitudes; their coping mechanisms; the privilege and responsibility that comes with DACA and a law degree; and how they are planning for the future. 

“By interviewing DACA law students and lawyers about their lived experiences and analyzing related themes, this brief reveals the complex experiences of DACA law students and lawyers,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, law professor and director of Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights. “In spite of the unparalleled uncertainty they face in their personal and professional lives, the DACA recipients interviewed felt privileged to have a legal education and determined to advance their professional careers.”

“DACA recipients pursuing legal careers remain committed to fulfilling their professional goals—which for many align with advancing the cause of immigrant justice—but the rescission of DACA has left them vulnerable,” said Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, senior policy analyst for Immigration Policy at CAP. “Only Congress can pass a federal solution that ensures their futures in the United States, and these interviews are further evidence of the need for a permanent fix in the form of a pathway to citizenship to protect DACA recipients and Dreamers.” 

To help DACAmented law students and lawyers as well as DACA recipients more broadly, and in addition to putting Dreamers on a pathway to citizenship, CAP and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic propose the following policy recommendations to states and universities:

  • Expand in-state tuition and financial aid at educational institutions
  • Provide access to mental health support for students
  • Connect DACA recipients with individuals or organizations that can administer screenings for legal status
  • Ensure DACA recipients may be licensed to practice law in each state

Read “DACAmented Law Students and Lawyers in the Trump Era” by Raquel Muñiz, Mara Zrzavy, and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is one of nine clinics at Penn State Law that allow students to learn through experience under the guidance of clinical faculty. 2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of the immigration law clinic, founded by Wadhia in 2008.

Institutional affiliation for faculty and students in the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is provided for identification purposes only and does not represent the views of the institution

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