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UNLV Immigration Clinic Expanding

Immigrant-rights advocates protest at the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
Associated Press

Immigrant-rights advocates protest at the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Editor's note: This discussion originally aired on July 19.

The UNLV Immigration Clinic received a state appropriation that will allow it to expand services for members of Nevada’s undocumented community facing deportation.

Assembly Bill 376 — called the Keep Nevada Working Act — passed the Legislature in party-line votes before being signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak. It provides $500,000 to the clinic, which offers free immigration legal services, with children making up the bulk of the clients.

Michael Kagan, director of the immigration clinic, said the funds would be used to create an off-campus office and to hire two attorneys associated with the Immigrant Justice Corps. He said the additional resources will make a real difference in people’s lives.

A study from Syracuse University found that “to have a lawyer increases your chances of avoiding deportation at least five-fold, and that's one of the most modest studies,” Kagan said. “There are studies that find having a lawyer can give you more than 10 times chance of avoiding deportation.”

Effective legal representation can also lower the social and financial costs of immigration enforcement and allow more families to remain together, Kagan said.

“Someone will go from being detained, literally costing the government money and with their family, not able to depend on them to being able to work legally, contribute to the economy, pay taxes like everybody else,” he said.

Clark County is also considering funding the clinic, partly, to avoid adding to social service costs, said Commissioner Tick Segerblom.

“The reality is anytime someone from a family is deported, then the loss of income for that family, the loss of having a mother or father in that family is just devastating,“ Segerblom said. “Clark County will have to step in and try to help raise those kids.”

Segerblom said the funding for support of the clinic, which awaits a commission vote, would come from fees imposed on the marijuana industry.

Assemblywoman Selena Torres, a Las Vegas Democrat who sponsored AB376, said personal experiences showed her the need for undocumented immigrants to have legal counsel. 

“Growing up, I knew too many students, too many peers in my class, that their parents were deported here in Las Vegas, here in the Clark County School District, and they didn't have access to representation,” she said.

Torres, who is also a schoolteacher, said she still sees firsthand the impact that immigration enforcement has on families, particularly children.

“I have a top student who now is struggling to get by, and his mind really isn't in school anymore, because he knows that their parents aren't there,” the assemblywoman said.

Her legislation also seeks more transparency in how Nevada police agencies handle immigration issues that arise in their work.

“Different police departments are dealing with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) differently, and those conversations and their communications look different, sometimes city to city,” she said.

Torres said having police departments provide their policies to the attorney general, something required in her bill, could inform lawmakers if they return to the issue in the 2023 Legislature.

It is estimated that more than 7 percent of Nevada’s population is undocumented, believed to be the highest percentage in the country.

Kagan said the new funding sources will allow the immigration clinic, which is part of the Boyd School of Law, to relocate off of the UNLV campus, making it easier for clients to find.

Tick Segerblom, Clark County commissioner; Selena Torres, assemblywoman; Michael Kagan, director, UNLV Immigration Clinic


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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.