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Clinic Enables Cornell DACA Student to Study Abroad

“I felt nervous, excited, everything,” said Marco Salgado Lara, a senior studying landscape architecture at Cornell University, his eyes widening and smile growing as he recalled the moment he learned he could pursue his dream of studying abroad in the Netherlands. “As soon as I found out I could travel, I called my mom, and we were just so happy.”

With the help of Cornell Law School’s 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic, Marco was able to obtain the legal documents necessary to travel abroad to study landscape architecture at Wageningen University, a world-renowned institution known for landscape architecture studies.

Marco was unsure whether he would be able to study abroad since he is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. DACA is a form of temporary immigration relief that allows otherwise undocumented young people to gain work authorization and protection from deportation for two years, but it does not provide a path to permanent status or other immigration benefits. Thus, DACA recipients typically cannot exit the United States and lawfully return. However, DACA recipients can apply for permission from the government for a sort of travel permit called Advance Parole, which allows DACA recipients to travel for educational, employment, or humanitarian reasons.

Marco had heard that there were legal pathways for DACA recipients to travel outside of the United States, but he knew it would be a longer and more difficult process as a noncitizen. He explained that although “there’s a degree of uncertainty” when it comes to DACA—a program which is constantly shifting with political winds—he knew he wanted to apply for a study abroad program anyway. In fact, the opportunity to explore architecture in the Netherlands was one of the main reasons he applied to Cornell.

To start his Advance Parole application, Marco reached out to Professor Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, associate clinical professor at the Law School and the director of the 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic. Marco first met Kelley-Widmer through the DREAM Team, a student group at Cornell that supports undocumented and DACA students through advising and community building. The clinic supports such students through legal representation and educational programs, such as a presentation that explains the Advance Parole application process, along with its benefits and risks.

Initially, Marco worked with Kelley-Widmer and the clinic to renew his DACA application, which must be renewed every two years. A few years later, he then asked for help applying for Advance Parole after he was nominated to study abroad by his department at Cornell.

With the help of Yam Schaal ’23 and Ethan Taveras ’23, the clinic compiled Marco’s Advance Parole application in Spring 2021. The team gathered documents about the Netherlands program and evidence showing support from his Cornell department and also crafted a compelling legal argument explaining how the study-abroad experience would fit into Marco’s education and career plans.

The timing was tight, because Advance Parole applications can take about six months to be approved. After the application was filed in March 2021, Marco waited, but there was no reply from the government for weeks on end. Although he was stressed, Marco says that he felt comfortable asking the clinic for advice. With the application still pending, but his August departure date looming, Marcos says that “Professor Kelley-Widmer sent an expedite request. Then I went to a [government] field office, and they approved my request right away, so I didn’t miss my flight.” Ultimately, Marco made it to the Netherlands that August, in time to join the study-abroad program for the fall semester.

Marco’s studies and adventures abroad deeply impacted his future plans and opened up opportunities for him. He was able to meet with inspiring professors in the Netherlands, some of whom he maintains regular contact with and considers to be mentors. In fact, he studied with one of the leading landscape architects in the world, Adriaan Gueze.

Marco shared that he has always been fascinated by water and the way architecture and water form both an aesthetic and functional synergy. While studying in the Netherlands, he was able to explore the ways in which the Dutch incorporate water into their landscape architecture. An inspirational moment on the trip was when he explored “Room for the River,” an architectural design project aimed to mitigate flood risk. This experience encouraged Marco to think deeply about the intersection of architecture and the environment. In the future he hopes to become a landscape architect and work on areas with coastal flooding. Marco says, “being able to learn how to manage and work with water and meet new people in a new country who were also excited about architecture was unbelievable. I’ve never done anything like it, and I’m so glad I got to go.”

As Marco mentioned, there’s always a degree of uncertainty with DACA in light of political changes and pending lawsuits either for or against the program. Currently, the federal government continues to process DACA renewal applications and Advance Parole applications for DACA recipients, but new DACA applications are not being accepted. The 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic continues to work with DACA students on campus and in the local community to renew their DACA applications and file for Advance Parole, often in collaboration with local nonprofit Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga. Kelley-Widmer notes that this co-counseling “allows the clinic to be an on-campus gateway to legal support and to serve a wider range of students than we otherwise could alone.”

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