October 7, 2016


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Founded in East Palo Alto, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto is a nonprofit offering legal services that improve the lives of low-income families throughout the region. CLSEPA specializes in immigration, housing, workers’ rights, criminal records clearance, consumer protection, and legal support for small businesses. CLSEPA’s team of attorneys, paralegals, and social workers work side-by-side with low-income communities and partner with community-based organizations, churches, and schools to bring about lasting change. CLSEPA’s transformative impact is magnified by the support it receives from impassioned volunteers at law firms, corporations, and law schools throughout the region, who collectively donate millions of dollars in legal services annually to CLSEPA’s clients.

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CLSEPA staff attorneys, Helen Beasley and Tess Feldman, at a community event for immigrant services

CLSEPA’s immigration program focuses on the most vulnerable members of the immigrant community. Each year, CLSEPA provides legal workshops, screenings, advice, and full scope representation to over 2,000 low-income immigrants, including: survivors of domestic violence and other crimes; refugees in need of asylum; immigrant youth and young adults; abused, abandoned, and neglected children; and individuals and families in removal proceedings. CLSEPA takes on the most challenging and complex cases, including representing families and children whose deportation cases have been fast-tracked by the court, assisting immigrants detained at remote detention facilities, and acting as court-appointed counsel for immigrants with severe mental health disabilities who cannot represent themselves.

When the federal government created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, CLSEPA immediately began educating thousands of immigrant youth and their families about the opportunity.  Since then, CLSEPA has provided consultation, application assistance, and full scope representation to thousands of youth and young adults.  Currently, to ensure that youth turning 15 will understand their rights and the opportunities to apply for DACA, , CLSEPA’s outreach efforts focus on those who are “aging in” to the program and who have yet to apply.. Older DACA applicants learn about CLSEPA’s services through outreach to adult education partners and community presentations. CLSEPA frequently partners with law firms and corporations in DACA workshops.  The workshops, sometimes held at Silicon Valley law offices or technology companies, often begin with a panel presentation that encourages youth to pursue career and educational opportunities.  Following the panel, pro bono partners provide free legal services through a clinical model. CLSEPA also provides direct representation for individuals with complex or complicated cases.

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Staff and volunteers with students from Cañada College at a DACA clinic

CLSEPA began a removal defense practice in 2012 to fill a desperate un-met need in the community for non-profit legal services for immigrants in removal proceedings. In 2014, CLSEPA mobilized a response to the administration’s decision to fast-track deportation of children and families fleeing extreme violence in Central America.  CLSEPA’s attorneys immediately began helping children and families on the expedited surge docket every Wednesday at the San Francisco Immigration Court, performing intakes and appearing as “friends of the court” to help the large number of immigrants without representation.

CLSEPA also serves as a clearinghouse to connect undocumented and unaccompanied immigrant children on the Peninsula and in the South Bay with legal services. The goal of the program is to provide holistic services to immigrant children and youth including consultations at Immigration Court, as well as bi-weekly intake clinics and monthly asylum clinics in-office. CLSEPA partners with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley to represent children in administrative proceedings, Immigration Court, and state court.

When the Mesa Verde Detention Center opened in Bakersfield in the spring of 2015, CLSEPA partnered with Centro Legal de la Raza to respond to the crisis for representation at the Mesa Verde facility. The organizations began an unfunded project to conduct know your rights presentations and legal intakes for immigrants detained at Mesa Verde.  In July 2015, AILA NorCal, in partnership with Centro Legal and CLSEPA, launched the Mesa Verde Pro Bono Project to begin to address the dire need for legal representation. Through the Mesa Verde Pro Bono Project, CLSEPA and Centro Legal conduct bimonthly know your rights presentations via video teleconference to those detained at Mesa Verde followed by monthly in person legal screenings with non-profits, law school clinics, and AILA members.  CLSEPA also places asylum cases with AILA members throughout California for pro bono representation.

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
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Organizations mentioned/involved: Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA)