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To help non-citizen military members and veterans go through the immigration and legal process, a recent graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law was awarded a national fellowship through Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship.

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Danicole Ramos

Danicole Ramos will use his fellowship to assist non-citizen military members and veterans through deportation defense, naturalization or family reunification. He is only the third person in Hawaiʻi to ever receive this fellowship.

“I’m really grateful that I had a funder who believed in the proposal I had and wanted to support it,” said Ramos. “My project focuses on doing outreach and providing legal services to those military members and veterans who are not U.S. citizens but have served the country and are living in Hawaiʻi.

Foreign-born residents comprise nearly a quarter of Hawaiʻi’s population and include an estimated 40,000 undocumented residents and 106,000 veterans. Yet, only eight lawyers statewide provide free or low-cost immigration legal services to immigrant communities.

“We don’t know the exact number here in Hawaiʻi,” said Ramos. “That is something I hope to address with my project. The veteran and immigrant population we have here provides an opportunity for this kind of work we’re doing to find out who this community is and how we can support them.”

Connection to community

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The immigrant community is one that Ramos resonates with as it reminded him of his own Filipino family and church community. The connection he felt was an integral part of his decision to go to the UH law school, in hopes of being able to help people through the immigration process.

“Danicole’s family’s immigration history to the North Shore, his service in the Air National Guard, and his legal training at the William S. Richardson School of Law all combine to make him the perfect person to meet the unmet need for immigration legal services for immigrant veterans in Hawaiʻi,” said Esther Yoo, director of the UH Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic

Through his time working in the UH Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic, Ramos, who currently serves in the U.S. military, encountered many clients who were veterans but not naturalized and who were unaware of the available opportunities for them.

“My interest in immigration law and with my experience serving in the military, I thought working on this issue would be a perfect fit for my skillset and the experiences that I’ve had,” said Ramos. “I think from a macro level it is a good place to do immigration work. Working with this community changes the narrative of what we think it means to be a patriot and what it means to be an American.”

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