- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Nothing could stop Yaremi Mejia from becoming a star basketball player for South Medford High.

She tore up the court, racked up points, dished out assists and watched the accolades pile up. In 2012, the team’s point guard not only led South Medford to the state championship - the first time a team from Southern Oregon won the large-school tournament - she was named player of the game.

As her athletic prowess increased and universities began offering her scholarships, Mejia faced a personal struggle that many sports fans probably didn’t realize.

She was a champion, but she was in the U.S. illegally.

“I was very discouraged about that,” the 20-year-old remembers. “It was scary, but I’m here.”

Mejia sought help from the Center for Non-Profit Legal Services in Medford to become a legal resident of the U.S.

Local lawyers have an ongoing program to help Mejia and others who don’t have the financial means to tackle complex legal issues.

The Lawyer’s Campaign for Equal Justice recently recognized Jackson County - for the second year in a row - for the large number of lawyers contributing to help the poor.

Local lawyer Dominic Campanella, statewide co-chair for the Campaign for Equal Justice, said that in addition to their pro-bono work, 137 lawyers in Jackson County (out of 300) donated $26,321 to the legal defense fund - the highest percentage of lawyers contributing in any Oregon county.

Statewide, $1.25 million was raised, he said.

“It’s pretty incredible what we were able to pull off,” he said.

The money goes to support cases involving child custody, immigration, landlord-tenant disputes and other issues.

Non-Profit Legal Services has helped 40 young people in the valley file applications for legal residence.

In the case of Mejia, the group helped provide a clear direction for what could have been an uncertain future for the young woman.

Mejia’s family left Mexico when she was 6. They lived first in Los Angeles, then moved to Medford, where Mejia enrolled at Oak Grove Elementary as a fifth-grader.

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