At three years old, Ana Mercado immigrated with her family to the United States from Mexico.
Now a sophomore majoring in contemporary Latino and Latin American studies and sociology, Mercado has been unable to return to her home country because of her undocumented, or DREAMer, status.
As the first in her family to attend a university, she is hoping to pave the way for her four younger siblings. This year’s executive orders affecting deportations and ICE raids, however, left Mercado feeling anxious.
“We’re not only battling with the day-to-day college life, but we’re also dealing with other stressors like how our status affects us,” Mercado said. “It’s extremely stressful. You have deadlines to meet for school, but then you’re also trying to figure out the application process. It’s crazy.”
One organization on campus has helped ease some of those tensions and make Mercado feel as though she isn’t alone.
The Legal Advice Project, a new initiative by the USC Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, is a provost-funded project which provides free legal consultations and referrals to members of the student body, faculty and staff who are seeking naturalization, want to know their rights or are either at risk of deportation or have family members at risk.
The Legal Advice Project has given Mercado free assistance in renewing her visa.
She explained how drastically the project has helped her through her first time undergoing the documentation process.
“The process was super fast, the staff is just so helpful,” Mercado said. “Throughout the whole process, they were there, they were helping me out. There was just a lot of uncertainty, so I didn’t know who to go to and who actually to trust, but knowing that they were walking with me through that process was extremely helpful.”
Jean Reisz, an Audrey Irmas Clinical Teaching Fellow and member of the Legal Advice Project team, said that this guidance and presentation of credible information is a principal goal of the organization.
“In these kind of scary and very anxious times, it’s really important that people feel supported and that they can get information that’s reliable … because there’s also a lot of bad information out there that increases the anxiety,” Reisz said.
Since the project began days after the 2016 presidential election, the team of four has worked with over 50 faculty members, staff and students like Mercado.
Through informational sessions, media, leaflets, collaboration with cultural and religious centers and tables at events, the Immigration Clinic hopes to further engage with the student body.
Niels Frenzen, director of the USC Gould Immigration Clinic and head of the Legal Advice Project, hopes that through this engagement, the project will make students feel further supported on campus.
“Our international students, our immigrant students, documented and undocumented, are all very much being threatened right now with hate, with increased immigration enforcement policies, and it’s very important for USC to use its position in the country and the world to respond to that,” Frenzen said. “Part of that is in taking care of our own in some way and that is something that this particular project is going to be able to do at least in terms of legal issues.”