UC Davis law clinic gets $1.15M boost for efforts helping detained migrant children

The Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis has been working for years on enforcing treatment standards for detained migrant children that the Trump administration has been attempting to roll back.

In recent weeks, the clinic’s work received donations totaling $1.15 million in what UC Davis School of Law dean Kevin Johnson describes as “a game changer.”

Together Rising, a nonprofit group that organizes fundraising campaigns for issues across the country and world, donated $900,000 from a campaign started in response to conditions in border detention facilities.

The James Irvine Foundation, a California-based philanthropic organization, donated $250,000, along with grants to other organizations working on supporting immigrant families.

For years, law clinic co-director Holly Cooper has been taking law students to border detention facilities, whose conditions have received increased national attention in recent weeks. In 2017, her students gathered evidence of migrant children receiving mind-altering drugs that prompted a federal court order to obtain proper consent before the administration of drugs. Most recently, Cooper helped push for a court order to improve health conditions in border detention facilities.

Cooper and her students’ work revolves around the enforcement of the Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement by the Justice Department to comply with standards for the treatment of detained migrant children. The Trump administration has tried to amend parts of the settlement’s legacy, including the requirement that children can’t be detained more than 20 days, but federal courts have denied those attempts.

UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson said the only licensed attorneys of the law clinic currently focusing on the Flores settlement are the co-directors of the law clinic, Cooper and Amagda Perez. While students have been assisting them, “they’re not licensed and they need guidance,” Johnson said.

The donations, which would add two licensed attorneys to work on enforcing the settlement “would make it easier to represent more people and be more effective in representation,” Johnson added.

He also noted that the addition of more attorneys would benefit law students: “Besides the humanitarian benefits of [Cooper’s] efforts, she’s also teaching the next generation of lawyers how to be lawyers in these kinds of conditions.”

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Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.