Donation Fills Void of Legal Services for Undocumented Children

Edward M. Bernstein & Associates gifts $250,000 to UNLV's Immigration Clinic.

This fall, Edward M. Bernstein & Associates made a quarter-of-a-million dollar donation to UNLV’s Immigration Clinic. The clinic, which in 2014 was one of seven organizations and the only law school to receive an AmeriCorps grant, calls on its young attorneys in the clinical law program to represent immigrant children fleeing violence in Central America.

“UNLV’s clinical law program is a marriage of giving students real life experience with finding a way for the law school to serve the community,” says clinic director Michael Kagen. The gift enables the clinic to continue assisting children in immigration court who do not have the wherewithal to help themselves.

In light of recent funding cuts by the Trump Administration, the AmeriCorps program was terminated, causing UNLV’s grant to end. Bernstein’s donation helps the clinic to continue the work of the AmeriCorps program through the Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Children’s Rights Program.

“I am proud of our UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law which has taken a leadership role in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable of our society and insuring that justice is available to all of us,” Bernstein said in a statement. “My wife Claudia emigrated from Peru 25 years ago and that personal connection makes immigration issues near and dear to my heart, as well as civil liberties and law-related matters,” he added.

With more than 100 open cases, and three attorneys, many are handled by law students under the supervision of Kagen. In order for students to have the most expansive experience, they handle some of the trials in immigration court and are involved in screenings and hearings for the children represented by the program. However, according to Mayra Salinas-Menjivar, clinic fellow and attorney, “It’s very limited on what students can achieve in a semester.” 

She adds: “In a normal clinic semester we’ll have 6 to 8 students, who can cover maybe 1 to 2 cases a semester, so we [couldn’t] really handle all the cases. Because of this grant we can now get more fellows and represent more children,” she says.

As an immigrant herself, Salinas-Menjivar has a close affinity with the clinic. “I started in the clinic my second year of law school. I always knew I was going to do immigration because I am an immigrant. I came here as a child from El Salvador,  so I feel a little bit more connected to these cases, it’s more connected to me.”

Mayra Salinas-Menjivar

In addition to servicing Las Vegas youths, the clinic is staffed with attorneys who agree to take on immigration cases pro bono, provide deportation defense and work with UNLV’s World Languages Program, enabling students to become professional translators for clients who do not speak English.

“We now see a lot of issues with individuals who were once under the DACA program,” says Caleb Green, second year law student at the Boyd School of Law, the president of the Black Law Students Association and the community outreach chair for the immigration law society.

“Since President Trump rescinded [the DACA program], the Immigration Clinic has been very active in [helping DACA students]. Many law students this fall put on a DACA renewal program, with the assistance of the Immigration Clinic, they were able to renew those DACA forms. By doing so they are going to be able to continue to serve the community, so this donation does a lot to make sure those programs and resources are available,” he says.

Bernstein is active in the community, especially in instances where diversity and minorities are concerned. He has served on numerous minority organization boards and worked to bring public awareness to global issues. Among these, the Committed 100 Men, where he mentored a fatherless African-American boy, and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas. His gift helps the diverse community that makes up Las Vegas—22 percent of the population having been born outside of the U.S. and more 7.2 percent of the state’s population is undocumented, the work of the clinic is essential in Nevada.

Las Vegans can further support the clinic by giving an online donation to the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. This gift will help the school continue to educate up and coming lawyers so that they may sustain their programs for helpless individuals in the Valley.