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Political science students volunteer with non-profit organization to provide free legal clinics to those in need

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Several students in the political science department volunteered with a program that assists immigrants in obtaining official legal status in the United States called The Justice Bus.

These students primarily act as Spanish-to-English translators for the attorneys and law students working on these pro-bono cases (meaning at no cost to the client) and in turn, receive volunteer experience through the non-profit organization OneJustice.

“To me, it’s personal because I’ve been through it,” Nephtali Robles said, a 26-year-old international relations major. “I know how hard it is to learn an entirely new culture, new language and everything that entails that. I have to help even if it’s the smallest thing of translating. It’s more personal for me, and it’s a mission.”

Of them, fluent Spanish speakers Nephtali Robles Jr., Maria Roman, Juan Diego Saavedra Hidalgo, Susana Sanchez and Jenifer E. Velazquez-Sanchez stepped up for the internship.

Maria Roman, 20-year-old international relations major, described her experience as beneficial.

“It’s been a great experience to see these people, that a lot of the time have suffered through a lot of their lives, to finally start going through the process to live a better life without fear,” she said.

Robles said he didn’t get assigned to a case at first since the first two people were refugee women. Typically, these women have endured a history of abuse, so they were careful not to assign a man to those cases to avoid discomfort between him and the women.

Robles was later assigned to a 16-year-old’s naturalization case.

“With me, he felt more relaxed. The first time we came in he was pretty shy,” Robles said. “And with my connection, the fact that I grew up in Mexico, I know how life is and how everything in the system works. He knew that he could confide in me, knowing I know exactly what it is he was talking about. It helped with the translation and got him to open up a bit more.”

The Justice Bus is one of four pro-bono initiatives run by OneJustice, and as of August, marked 10 years of providing free legal guidance to immigrants.

“The Justice Bus Project takes teams of attorney and law student volunteers from urban areas to set up free legal clinics for low-income Californians living in rural and isolated communities,” according to the OneJustice website. “These clinics provide life-changing legal assistance to low-income veterans, vulnerable seniors, children with disabilities, low-wage workers, immigrant youth and families.”

Morales said it is a challenge to create a welcoming environment for the immigrant clients.

“It is ever so more important than it ever has been in this country,” he said. “The sense of persecution, the fear that they have, you see that the moment they walk in.”

“The point of this is to help people,” Morales said. “The people that we serve with OneJustice are people who are migrant workers, people who are abused socially, economically in terms of immigration policy, and there’s nothing more rewarding to me than to be able to help. It doesn’t cost me anything.”

Cosumnes River College is likely the only college currently connected in translation volunteering, said Morales, and they are prompted to drive out of town to get to these clinics. There have been two immigration clinics that he and the students were involved with during the month of October, held in Stockton and Kentfield.

“Most of them are immigration-based, either DACA or naturalization-based clinics,” Morales said. “Some of their clinics are work related issues, some are landlord-tenant related issues, and we go where and when we can.”

Morales said he hopes that this will be a long-standing relationship between the CRC political science department and the OneJustice organization so that they may continue to work at these clinics in the future.

Roman drew parallels between the clients and her own family history.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community, but never knew how,” she said.. Roman explained that her own mother has been an immigrant in the country for more than 25 years.

“Just knowing that that could be somebody else’s family, they’re a person in need, and just seeing my own family members and them, it hits close to home,” Roman said. “It makes it so rewarding to know that someone who has lived such a life is finally able to move forward and you’re helping them move forward.”

CORRECTION: Political science students involved with the organization received volunteer experience, not internship experience.

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Political science students volunteer with non-profit organization to provide free legal clinics to those in need