Written by The Business Journal Staff
Jessica Smith Bobadilla, Director
New American Legal Clinic
What we do:
The New American Legal Clinic (NALC) offers pro bono legal services to individuals in the San Joaquin Central Valley applying for legal permanent residency or citizenship in the United States. We also advise agriculture and other industries as to immigration consequences or options in various contexts as well as provide trainings on immigration law partnering with other community-based organizations and educational institutions.
Edison High School (Class of 1993)
University of California, Berkeley (Class of 1997)
B.A. Political Science, minor in Spanish with high honors
Hastings College of the Law (J.D. 2001)
Columbia University, Master of International Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), 2001
Two children: Sophia Ani (8) and Giovanni Tomas (4)
How did you come to be director of the New American Legal Clinic, Jessica?
I have practiced immigration law for 11 years since graduating from law school. My private practice involved representation of agricultural and other employers as well as intending immigrants from all over the world. I have always tried to offer high quality and ethical representation to people in immigration law and had prevailed in many cases over the years through this approach. I was very excited when the NALC initiative started to take shape and volunteered time as well as strategic advice on certain cases given my experience. I was offered a position to join the faculty at SJCL first as an adjunct professor then as full time faculty in October 2012. When my colleague Justin Atkinson was promoted to the administration at the school I was asked to assume the role as the director of NALC.
What was the purpose in establishing the New American Legal Clinic a few years ago, Jessica?
There was a void in many ways in the San Joaquin Valley for people in accessing immigration law advice and services. The Mexican Consulate of Fresno does a lot to fill the need for advice for Mexican nationals. Still, there were others who were not Mexican who couldn’t get the right advice and had no funds to pay a lawyer or who had strong cases but no resources and little way to secure representation. Many employers (agricultural and others) also didn’t know where to go just to get some information about a situation they were encountering with a particular employee or what options existed for filling a position or labor shortage. We have been able to assist members of both the immigrant communities and business community as well. The unauthorized practice of immigration law is rampant in California generally and our geographic area specifically. We also wanted to combat the fraud against immigrants that is epidemic in this area and often leads to the separation of families.
What services do you offer at the NALC, Jessica?
We offer consultations and advice in all areas of immigration law. We offer representation based on financial need (although we will give advice to anyone). Most of the first cases we handled were naturalization (citizenship) representation as well as representation with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications. We have also done a lot of work for crime victims and domestic violence survivors of very limited means in securing legal status in the United States. We have handled some other waivers and more complicated matters for people applying for legal residency in the United States. Recently, we took on a few court cases where we must travel to the San Francisco immigration court to represent clients. Many people do not know that immigrants in court proceedings in the Central Valley have to travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles to resolve their cases.
How does NALC work with employer groups to make sure they’re compliant with federal laws on hiring undocumented workers, Jessica?
NALC has lectured to employer groups and consulted with private employers as well. We work with the Nisei Farmers League and have also trained farm labor contractors in collaboration with Fresno City College.
What kind of support has the clinic received since starting up and what do you attribute that to?
NALC has received several grants from Granville Homes, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Wal-Mart and other sources. I believe this can be attributed to the strong history of immigrants in this area as central to the character and economy of our valley.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Jessica?
My first job was babysitting and housesitting for neighbors in the Tower District in Fresno where I was raised. We had an interesting and colorful group of neighbors and I learned a lot about life from the people around me. I also worked as a housekeeper at a private residence during high school because I wanted to buy a used car once I got my license. I think I learned a lot about what many people have to do to earn a living and don’t have opportunities for education available to them. Those experiences led to me to seize as many opportunities as I could when I saw them within my reach.
What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Jessica?
I was born in Fresno and attended public schools until I graduated and went to UC Berkeley at 18. I came back about 10 years ago first to work for Robert W Yarra, who at that time was the only certified immigration law specialist in the area, and then started my own practice. My father was born in Fresno and my parents have always lived here. They are both Fresno State alumni.