“Community college was the missing piece.”Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Ramon Becerra-Alcantar, paralegal for EBCLC’s Immigration Unit, was living in Oakland when he got his first job at a grocery store. The hiring process went smoothly for him. He began training and had already been working for a few days when he received a call from the store management questioning the status of his work authorization after running a background check. “They said there was a mistake with my social security and that I should come in to fix it,” said Ramon.
He knew then that he would never be able to return to the job.
“I was afraid to go back to pick up the check they owed me for training,” said Ramon.
Before President Obama’s 2012 executive order called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) provided administrative relief to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, Ramon was one of thousands of young people who did not have work authorization, nor protection from deportation. He knew his employment options were limited.
A Catalyst for Change
Eventually, Ramon found a job at a restaurant where he worked ‘under the table’.
“It was hard to see how workers were treated. The owner knew that (the employees) did not have authorization to work and he took advantage of that. I knew I couldn’t do certain things. I feared getting fired because I was undocumented and it was going to be hard to find a job that didn’t do a background check,” said Ramon.
After living through these experiences, Ramon knew that he had to make a change. He decided then that he wanted to pursue a career in the immigration legal field.
“I was living with that fear and fear of my family being deported which led me to want to fight for their rights and do what I can in the field to contribute to the immigrant community,” said Ramon.
His commitment to achieving a career in immigration law led him to his first stop, Laney College. He gained the necessary qualifications to then transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Now, he holds a position in EBCLC’s Immigration Program as a paralegal and is accredited by the Department of Justice to represent individuals in immigration court.
“Growing up in the Bay Area, I had always heard of EBCLC,” said Ramon. “EBCLC represented a way for me to provide services to individuals in the Bay Area who are marginalized. What EBCLC stands for is what attracted me the most and what I wanted to be a part of.”
Through EBCLC’s new partnership with Laney College, which launched last week at their Oakland campus, Ramon is getting the opportunity to do exactly what he signed up for.
Last year, Theo Cuison, Director of EBCLC’s Immigration Program, presented Ramon with a chance to take the lead in a new project to expand immigration legal services to community college students. Ramon saw an opportunity to leverage his connection to his alma mater and jumped at the chance. Under the supervision of Mindy Phillips, Deputy Director of EBCLC’s Immigration Program and an expert in school-based immigration services, Ramon has taken his expertise to Laney.
Deputy Director of EBCLC’s Immigration Practice
Director of EBCLC’s Immigration Practice
Through this innovative new partnership, Ramon will provide Laney College students with on-campus legal information, consultations, and screenings for potential immigration remedies, and EBCLC will take on many students’ immigration cases for full representation. Ramon expects to support many students with DACA renewals and any of the areas our legal team has expertise in, including but not limited to: family-based petitions, asylum, U-visa, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Going into schools through what the Immigration Program has coined a “school-based model” allows EBCLC “to help undocumented individuals while they are still under 21. A lot of times when we encounter older individuals there aren’t many immigration remedies for them because they have aged out of remedies they might have been eligible for,” said Ramon.
The model was first implemented with the Undocumented Student Program (USP) at UC Berkeley. EBCLC functions as the legal arm of USP and provides no-cost immigration legal services to undocumented UCB students and their relatives. Through our partnership with USP from 2018 to 2019, EBCLC helped around 100 Berkeley students to renew DACA and provided many more immigration-related legal services. The success of this program paved the way for a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District where younger students and their families receive the same free legal services at school-based health centers operated by La Clínica de la Raza.
From Kindergarten to College
EBCLC’s Immigration Program aims to serve the undocumented community “from kindergarten to college,” and in this goal, “Laney completes the model,” said Ramon. “The missing piece was community college, which many forget about despite it being a venue for undocumented folks to access college because it is less costly and allows you to transfer to a four-year or just get a degree.”
The “Kindergarten to College” mission grows even more crucial as DACA continues to be attacked by the current administration. The future of DACA is currently in the hands of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Ramon expects to hear a final verdict in 2020.
“It is important to expand this service because of the need for folks to know what is going on with DACA and to be able to renew their DACA as soon as possible,” said Ramon. “There are individuals that qualify for remedies they don’t know about. By providing students with consultations on campus, we will be able to see if they have options and help them take advantage of that so that they do not depend on DACA.”
EBCLC’s partnership with Laney started October 1, and Ramon expressed excitement about returning to the school that launched his own undergraduate career. “As a transfer, it has been an amazing experience to be able to go back to Laney and be able to provide a service that I myself needed at that time,” says Ramon. “It’s awesome, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do – to go back to the community that supported me.”