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Spring Break Justice Trip

Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Law students hit the road to provide legal resources

- By Anne Bergman

Goshen, Calif, may not top the list of spring break destinations for most college students. But the agricultural town, located just south of Fresno, was on the itinerary for 13 USC Gould School of Law students, who spent two days of their break on the Justice Bus, trying to help others.

The group offered legal expertise to dozens of low-income residents and undocumented immigrants on topics ranging from tax advice to fair labor standards, marking the fourth time that USC Gould and Justice Bus, a project of OneJustice, a nonprofit whose mission is” to resolve legal problems by removing barriers to justice.”

Over the two-day journey, the team helped 18 clients prepare their taxes with the Central California Legal Services,

These USC Gould JD and LLM students spent part of their their spring break in Fresno helping 18 clients with tax preparation.

totaling $23,000 in tax refunds, and provided counseling on immigration status to 31 clients with the National Immigration Law Center in Fresno.

For Andrés Cantero, a second-year law student at USC Gould, the trip provided an opportunity to learn more about immigration law, an area that he has yet to explore in school.

Cantero helped match undocumented immigrants, many of whom had suffered human trafficking, violence and wage theft, with support programs.

“I informed them of services they needed, as they don’t know who to ask or how to receive services,” he said. “They didn’t know that they could come out of hiding and get protection without fear of being deported.”

Malissa Barnwell-Scott, director of USC Gould’s Office of Public Service, coordinates the trips. Barnwell-Scott said she strives for relevancy when selecting each year’s projects, which this year focused on tax preparation and immigration screening.

“It’s the time of year when everyone is working on their taxes, so we felt tax prep was relevant,” she said. “And we chose immigration, as it’s an ongoing issue in our state.”

Barnwell-Scott noted that the projects offer a chance for the law students, both JDs and LLMs, to learn a new area of the law. Students who participate must attend trainings and complete webinars with deadlines before they are allowed to join a Justice Bus trip.

Megan Kent, an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with OneJustice, accompanied the students, offering on-the-bus training before they hit their first destination in Fresno.

“We were fortunate to have some Spanish speakers in the group, so we were able to provide services directly in Spanish,” said Kent, who added that the Gould students “provided quality legal services and treated their clients with respect and dignity.”

Kent hopes the trip sparked a spirit of giving back in the students who participated. “Some of them are already on the public interest track, but for many, we are trying to plant ‘pro bono seeds’ and get them engaged and invested in pro bono work, so that they will sustain that work once they are with a firm, or out on their own.” 

For Cantero, the underserved Central Valley would be an area where he’d like to focus his future pro bono work. In the two days with Justice Bus, Cantero helped six clients with taxes and eight with immigration services. Yet it still didn’t feel like it was enough.

“I wish we’d had all week,” he said.

Below, Cantero, a member of the USC Cheerleading team, does a backflip in Goshen after helping clients with their immigration status.




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