Community leaders address the media in a church

Sacramento community and religious leaders speak with media at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral of Sacramento on June 6, 2023. (Photo via Twitter)

‘A Huge Community Effort’

by | Jun 16, 2023 | Alumni Achievers

UC Davis School of Law alumni and students are leading efforts to assist migrants who were transported unannounced to Sacramento from the U.S.-Mexico border under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relocation program

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, J.D. ’84, set the tone for local officials by warmly welcoming the 36 new arrivals, who were sent to Sacramento on two chartered flights in early June.

“You bring people to our community who don’t know where their hope lies, we will provide them hope,” Steinberg said during a gathering of local faith leaders who have taken a crucial role in accommodating the new arrivals.

Several UC Davis Law alumni and students conducted initial legal screenings of the migrants — who hail from Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere — while putting out a call for other volunteer immigration attorneys to help.

“It is a huge community effort,” said UC Davis School of Law Professor Amagda Pérez ’88, J.D. ’91, co-director of the law school’s Immigration Law Clinic and executive director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Pérez has helped recruit attorney volunteers while CRLAF attorneys Bianca Duenas, J.D. ’16, Marcus Tang ’10, J.D. ’14, and Nicole Zanardi ’17 immediately went to work assessing the new arrivals’ status when the first plane arrived June 2. CRLAF became involved through its associations with the Sacramento ACT multi-faith coalition and the Sacramento FUEL Network for Immigrants.  

“We worked with SacACT to create a list of the individuals who had arrived and tried to go through their immigration documents, to see who among them had been put into removal proceedings, or if anyone had an upcoming court hearing or ICE check-in,” Zanardi said. The attorneys sought to “make sure we weren’t missing anything and could provide any immediate assistance needed.”

After the second group arrived June 5, the CRLAF attorneys conducted a more general information session, informing the migrants they would be matched with a volunteer attorney “for an additional conversation where they could talk about their situation,” Zanardi said.

King Hall alums and CRLAF attorneys Joana Peraza Lizarraga, J.D. ’21, and Monica Ortega, J.D. ’22, helped conduct screenings. King Hall students Héctor Sánchez Castañeda and Leslie De La Torre provided vital assistance in their roles as CRLAF summer clerks.

Responding immediately to newly arrived migrants in crisis is part of the FUEL Network’s mission, Zanardi said.

“Any situation where we have a group of folks who are new to the Sacramento community who need assistance navigating the immigration system [and] where we can provide assistance, it’s important for us to help,” Zanardi said. “And I think particularly in this case, it was a pretty egregious act by Gov. DeSantis and other actors who took advantage of these folks for their own political reasons.”

DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, has been repeatedly condemned and threatened with legal action by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and others for Florida’s practice of transporting migrants to California and other states with Democratic leadership. UC Davis School of Law Dean Kevin R. Johnson recently wrote for CalMatters about DeSantis’ program and the history of U.S. politicians using immigrants as pawns.

Johnson, an internationally renowned immigration law scholar, noted that Steinberg had reached out when the migrants arrived in Sacramento to see if the law school could do anything to help.

“I was so pleased to learn that a team of King Hall alums was already assisting,” Johnson said. He said it reminded him of how “we had professors and students going to the airports to help people” immediately after President Donald Trump instituted a ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations in 2017.

Immigration attorneys willing to provide the Sacramento migrant group with free consultations and limited-scope or full-scope representation are invited to fill out a Sac FUEL Network volunteer form.

In addition, SacACT is coordinating an evolving list of financial and other donations needed to assist the migrants.