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Executive Order On Immigration Creates Demand For Legal Advice


President Obama's executive order on immigration means that millions of undocumented immigrants may now qualify for protection from deportation. And for many, the next step is seeking legal advice. Michael Kagan is a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He also helps run a clinic that offers free legal aid to immigrants. When Steve Inskeep spoke with him, Kagan was concerned that immigration lawyers are about to become overwhelmed with the demand for their assistance.

MICHAEL KAGAN: This is really going to be huge here. As you may know, Nevada has the highest rate of unauthorized immigrants per capita in the country. And a lot of these people, when they would go - if they went to a responsible lawyer, the responsible answer was that there was nothing I could do for you. Now, for at least a lot of people, there is something available. It's tenuous. It needs - there are details that have to be filled in. People will worry about how stable it is. But there is something that someone can think about applying for if they fall into these criteria, and a lot of people will.


So help me understand how this is supposed to work then. We have several million people who may qualify. But it sounds like they can't just start celebrating. They need to come to somebody like you and get help and apply for this protected status.

KAGAN: After the celebrations that this has been announced, I think the next issue that people are going to have to be worrying about here is how to get the information out in a responsible way because there will be a lot of people getting information out in an irresponsible way.

First of all, the application isn't even out. The other issue is that the criteria for these programs, on one level - fairly simple. On the other hand, they have some serious pitfalls. So I advise people, for instance, that if you have ever been - had any brush with police, even if it didn't end in a conviction, you really should get legal advice before you apply to any of these programs rather than wading through the complexity of explanation about what is a misdemeanor and a significant misdemeanor.

INSKEEP: Oh, and this is important because if you have committed a serious crime, the authorities are not going to want to give you protected status to stay here under any program, existing or new.

KAGAN: No, I think that if you have a - what they consider to be a serious crime on your record and you apply for this, they'll say thank you very much for coming forward. We've been looking for you. Come to immigration court right now.

INSKEEP: And we may deport you?

KAGAN: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Is there a proper infrastructure then to deal with several million people who may be coming forward and wanting or needing help?

KAGAN: Easy answer - no. There's not. There are a number of different programs here that provide specific types of legal aid. It's a patchwork, but a patchwork with a lot of gaps. There are discussions now about how to expand this. But there's no way around it. To expand that to be able to deal with the number of people we have here would require a great deal of money to build up that infrastructure.

So we really have a long way to go and what is frightening is that in this vacuum, there are a lot of other people. When you drive on the roads here in downtown Las Vegas and in north Las Vegas, everywhere there are signs that say, notary immigration services - those are the notarios. And so there are other people who are not licensed whose interest is just in making money, not in giving people good advice, who will fill this vacuum. And that's the frightening part.

INSKEEP: Michael Kagan at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Thanks very much.

KAGAN: Pleasure to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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