Student Legal Services helps international students navigate a post-travel ban world


IU Student Legal Services provides legal services to students on everything from lease analysis to car accident settlements. Along with the Office of International Services, it also helps international students maintain their visas. Emily Eckelbarger and Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

President Trump’s travel ban—which prevents people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from travelling to the U.S.—was partially reinstituted on June 29. However, people who are able to prove that they have a relationship to the United States may still travel from those countries. Eligible relationships include a close family member living in the U.S., a job offer or enrollment at an American university.

It’s the university attendance caveat that allows students from those six countries to travel to the U.S., at least for now. Despite the caveat, Stacee Williams, the director of IU Student Legal Services, says SLS must be careful in advising international students as they travel to and from the U.S.. 

“I think that it impacts what we do here in that we have to be very mindful of what we’re saying to students,” she said. “We just have to be careful to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s and think about all the contingencies.”

SLS started in 1971 after students on campus wanted to form a service on campus to help students whose security deposits weren’t being returned by landlords. 

Although SLS can’t represent IU students in criminal court or against other IU students, the service does provide assistance with a broad range of issues, from name and gender changes to reviewing car purchases and rentals. The bulk of its cases, about 40 percent, are landlord cases. Students who encounter landlords who enter rental properties without notice or don’t return security deposits can take their case to SLS. 

Students each pay $8.80 in their semester fees for SLS, but Williams says that students aren’t as aware of the program as they should be. 

“We help students focus on their studies,” she said. “When you find yourself in a situation where you need a lawyer, it’s not a situation you expect to find yourself and most people don’t really have any tools for helping them deal with it.” 

For many students, receiving a drinking or drug violation can be their first brush with the law.  

“It’s absolutely terrifying for them,” she said. “Taking that stress off of students’ shoulders is one of the biggest services we provide to IU.”

SLS also provides an opportunity for Mauer School of Law students to work at a hands-on internship.

Rachel Stopchinski is a second year law student at the Mauer School of Law. After hearing about the internship from friends, she began working at SLS over the summer. She works with students' legal problems from initial interview to resolution. 

“Under the direct supervision of an attorney, I get to have a sense of what the day-to-day life of an attorney is,” she said. “I can see myself taking these skills into my actual practice.”

Sometimes she has cases come across her desk that remind her of situations she and former roommates found themselves in not so long ago.

“Being so young, I’m more connected to these experiences because I’ve lived through them,” she said.

Working with a broad clientele of undergraduate, graduate and international students has made Stopchinski learn to adapt to clients’ needs. 

“You have to find a way to take that legal jargon and then boil it down to terms that are still true to what it means, but are plain language,” she said. 

Although international students make up about 14-15 percent of the IU student population, they make up 22 percent of SLS clients. 

SLS handles immigration cases for international students, but also handles the same types of cases for them that domestic students have, like reviewing car rentals and purchases and making sure landlords don’t take advantage of students. 

A criminal charge can have a more serious effect on international students than it would have on domestic students. Working at a job that is unrelated to an international student’s course of study could also endanger their visa. For more complex cases, SLS refers some international students to two Bloomington and one Indianapolis attorneys who specialize in immigration law.

“We’re the type of office that helps students to deal with the outside world so that they can do what they need to do when they’re in the campus world,” Williams said. 

SLS also helps bridge cultural differences between international students and the law. Currently, SLS is working with prosecutors from around the state to educate police officers about international driving permits. In the past, students have been charged with driving without a license even though they were carrying a valid international permit, Williams said. 

“How to conduct yourself during police interaction if you’re pulled over by a police officers, these are really important issues that international students need to learn,” she said. 

SLS is working to translate some of its website material and pamphlets into Arabic, Mandarin and Korean to help international student understand the nuances of the law.

The Office of International Services also helps international students with their encounters with U.S. law, specifically visa laws. SLS and OIS are conscientious about communicating with each other, Rendy Schrader, the director of international student and scholar advising, said.

OIS and SLS work to ensure international students are compliant with visa laws, but they also help create a welcoming, navigable environment for students when they arrive on campus.

After the travel ban was initially announced in January, OIS organized an online hashtag called “You are welcome here.” They’ve also planned airport welcomes to greet international students. 

“It’s made us better at what we do in an ironic sort of way,” Schrader said. 

“We redoubled efforts to make students to feel welcome. We want them here. Students are a vibrant part of our community,” she said. 

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