USG and School of Law collaboration to help undocumented students

Willimantic and Windham residents gather in in Willimantic on Friday, January 20th to show their support for undocumented students and immigrants in the face of Donald J. Trump's inauguration. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

A collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government and the UConn School of Law will help undocumented students gain access to legal services, said USG President Daniel Byrd.

The event, which is planned for March 28 at the UConn School of Law in Hartford, will pair undocumented students with School of Law alumni who are volunteering their legal services and expertise pro bono, in the event of the student or their family facing deportation or detainment, Byrd said.

“[If] someone is arrested for their status or detained... that person has a right to legal counsel,” Byrd said. “We would love if a UConn alum would be a representative for that student and their family. There’s things that lawyers can do to help prevent deportation.”

The idea arose from the UConn Vice President for Student affairs Michael Gilbert, Byrd said, whose office reached out to the Dean of Law Timothy Fisher.

Gilbert said the law school was receptive to the idea.

“Student Affairs’ staff proposed this idea to Fischer and he gladly joined our meetings with USG and undocumented students to offer his support,” Gilbert said. “This helps demonstrate the university’s leadership on this issue and concern for our students.”

The dean of students, general counsels and the president’s office are all supporting this campaign, Byrd said.

“We have the support of the administration,” Byrd said. “They’ve been very helpful with this project.”  

The group has been meeting since Trump’s election, Byrd said, in wake of the student protests that took place on campus in November.

“We turned a rally on Nov. 8 into a committee of students and administrators,” Byrd said. “Our first meeting was in November, and we’ve been meeting once a month since then, sometimes twice a month. We met over winter break. We wanted to get a lot of stuff done before Jan. 20, when [Trump] became president.”

Several students have already asked to participate in the event, Byrd said.

“The students who go to our meetings… are all on board for going,” Byrd said. “We have students who are really looking forward to this event.”

While there hasn’t been any overt advertising for the event so far, Byrd said that word-of-mouth will be the main method, since students may not be comfortable with advertising their undocumented status.  

“We will certainly be student-to-student advertising,” Byrd said. “This is something I think a lot of students realize they need, but don’t know how to get legal services.”

Byrd’s main motivation for helping organize this event came from a sense of responsibility as USG president, and a fellowship for his peers, he said.

“This group of students in particular is facing a new kind of threat that they’ve never faced before under a Trump presidency,” he said. “I felt called to action because of our fellow Huskies.”

Byrd said that he hopes the collaboration will bring both former and current UConn students together.

“I think it’s a good way to bridge the gap between law alum and students,” Byrd said. “These students... were brought here before the age of 16. They don’t have a choice about where they came. They haven’t known any other place. They feel just as American as anybody else. They’re my friends. They’re my peers. They’re my fellow UConn students.”


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.