Baylor Law helps immigrants in need

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. It meant that children who were brought to America illegally could apply for a DACA card that allowed them to stay in the United States for a two-year period and get a worker authorization.

In response to this policy change, Baylor Law School professor Laura Hernández, with the help of a student, started the Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic.

“We knew there would be lots and lots of people in the Waco area who would qualify for a DACA card, but we also knew the application can be daunting and complicated,” Hernández said. “We didn’t want anyone who qualified for this to not receive it because they didn’t know how to apply.”

The clinic assisted Waco-area residents in applying for DACA cards, and in 2012, it assisted with over 300 applications.

In 2012, The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the deferment program could affect 1.7 million unauthorized immigrants throughout the United States and immediately affects more than 150,000 unauthorized immigrants in Texas.

The clinic operates every other academic quarter and in 2014 added assistance for people applying to renew their DACA cards as well as apply for new ones.

The student who approached Hernández with the idea for the clinic is Baylor aluma Anali Gatlin.

Gatlin said that being the daughter of a South American immigrant influenced her opinions on immigration and has kept immigration issues close to her heart as she grew up.

“My mom felt like a foreigner for a long time after she came here,” Gatlin said. “I saw her struggles and could only imagine the struggles of children of undocumented immigrants.”

Gatlin said that although she didn’t originally plan on going to law school, she has always had a heart for service and helping people.

After graduating from Baylor in 2007 with a degree in anthropology, Spanish and gender studies, Gatlin worked with Habitat for Humanity in Waco and worked as a director of a homeless ministry in Chicago.

In 2012, Gatlin returned to Waco to attend Baylor Law School. She carried her heart for immigrants with her, and when President Obama signed DACA, she said she knew she wanted to help people gain access to resources available to them.

“There weren’t a lot of opportunities for law students here to have direct experience working with immigration law, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to help the community and help the law students,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin also attributed her passion for helping immigrants to growing up in a small, bilingual church in Waco.

“I grew up hearing the stories of struggles of immigrants,” Gatlin said. “I feel it is my responsibility as a Christian to help those in my community and Baylor’s as well, as a Christian university, to help the immigrants in our community. That is exactly what Baylor is doing through this clinic.”

Hernández said students in the clinic can gain direct experience by working with the clients under her supervision. She said many law students, as well as undergraduate students from a wide range of majors, help with the project.

“It is a great opportunity for everyone involved,” Hernández said. “We have Spanish majors helping translate, social work students seeing the kind of work they can go into in the real world, as well as many other majors volunteering.”

Hernández stressed that DACA depends on who is president, and she does not know what the future of DACA will look like under President Donald Trump.

Hernández said the clinic is still aiding people in the renewal of their DACA applications but advises immigrants to not start new applications.

“President Obama promised not to share the applicant’s information with immigration enforcement, but we don’t know what President Trump is going to do,” Hernández said. “Trump hasn’t specifically said anything about this executive order, and he kind of does things his own way which is kind of scary, so I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Hernández said if Trump gets rid of the DACA program, she would like to start a clinic helping immigrants with their naturalization papers.