Psychologist, attorney join Undocumented Student Program

Starting this fall, Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program has a full-time psychologist and a full-time immigration attorney on its staff. The program, a national model for other colleges and universities since its start in 2012, expects to serve nearly 400 undocumented students from more than 20 countries during the new school year.

Prerna Lal and Diana Peña (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

Prerna Lal (left), an immigration attorney, and Diana Peña, a psychologist, now work at the Undocumented Student Program. (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

Both positions, among the first of their kind at a college or university in the United States, were acutely needed and are being funded by private donors, says Fabrizio Mejia, executive director of the Berkeley Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence.

Elise Haas is providing multi-year funding for the psychologist. Dr. Diana Peña, a staff member at Berkeley’s Counseling and Psychological Service (CPS), is already on the job at her new spot in the Undocumented Student Program’s headquarters in the Cesar Chavez Center.

“Our data has been showing a high degree of need for access to mental health services by undocumented students, a need that requires an innovative approach with our CPS campus partners,” says Mejia. “As resilient as our undocumented students are in persisting on their educational paths, many suffer from depression and anxiety about their status, fears about deportation and the obstacles their families face.”

Jeff Hawkins provided seed funding for immigration attorney Prerna Lal, of the East Bay Community Law Center, who will help undocumented students and their families navigate complex and sometimes quickly changing laws and policies about immigration, their legal rights and privileges, and the higher education obstacles and possibilities facing undocumented college students.

“We needed someone who was up on all the new occurrences who could help students understand all their options, not just the ones they know about,” says Mejia. “Part of that job, too, is letting students ask questions about the status of their immediate family members and having access to resources in many languages.”

Lal will also write legal memos to the UC system when it requests guidance on these issues.