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USC law students spend spring break providing legal resources in Central Valley

This year’s projects focus on tax preparation and immigration screening

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 15 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 nonprofit that coordinates legal resources to help underserved Californians in rural and isolated communities, have partnered for such trips.

Over the two-day journey, the team helped 18 clients prepare their taxes with the Central California Legal Services, totaling $23,000 in tax refunds, and provided counseling on immigration status to 31 clients with the National Immigration Law Center in Fresno.

Immigration law

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 also 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.

In two days, 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.

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USC law students spend spring break providing legal resources in Central Valley

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