Alisa Diehl joins the Education team

By Paloma Mexika

I spoke with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s new senior education attorney, Alisa Diehl, about her experience working in social justice. Ms. Diehl has years of legal and advocacy experience. She attended law school at University of Iowa College of Law and received her undergraduate degree at Arizona State University. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What made you interested in social justice/advocacy work? 

I grew up aware of inequity and injustice. My parents protested in the 70’s against the Vietnam war because of racial violence. My dad was moved by the injustices of the government—because of the war itself and the response to protestors at the time. My dad also was committed to learning about the injustices faced by Indigenous people. 

These perspectives were ingrained in me from a young age. I feel I have a responsibility to have a role in fighting against it. 

What in your upbringing influenced your decision to be a lawyer?

My parents made sure that I grew up aware of my privilege and that my life was easier because of it. I felt a responsibility to fight for equity, justice, and accountability, and one way to do that is through policy and the law. The law can help effectuate change.

To do this work, it’s important to really listen and understand what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing. I put great value on humility, relationship building, and communication and supporting the work of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. 

What is your proudest accomplishment in this work?

What sticks out most are the several-year-long clients I worked with that turned into meaningful relationships. Before coming to the Center, I worked at Legal Aid focusing on unemployment benefits, housing, and domestic abuse litigation. I did individual client work, which is a much different form of advocacy work. 

In one specific unemployment benefits case, I represented a woman from the administrative level through the Iowa Supreme Court, where we were finally successful in helping her obtain benefits. She’s a working mother, a survivor of domestic violence, and a woman of color in a very white state. We had a great legal outcome, but more importantly, we connected and built a friendship over the years. We grew trust, practiced patience, and went through several legal hoops together because I helped her with other legal issues that arose in her life as a domino effect during that time. We still stay in touch. 

The way her life was impacted by the circumstances that led to her unemployment benefits case  was so stark in a state where the racial disparity for incarcerated Black residents is among the worst in the country. The events that happened to her showed very clearly the systemic and institutional racial inequalities that function effortlessly together. 

Why did you want to join the Center’s education team? 

I am a product of public schools, as is my husband and family. Public education has always been personally important to me. Perhaps more importantly, I am connected to this issue as a parent myself, because everyone wants a good education for their children.

Our social and economic systems maintain racial inequities and discrimination. The public education system is perhaps the greatest example of this. At the same time, public education has the most potential to be the great equalizer IF it’s administered and funded fully and equitably. 

I am excited to be part of a multifaceted approach to education advocacy. I look forward to developing and maintaining community relationships as part of the Transform Education NM coalition and the Yazzie counsel. I’m eager to join the formidable advocacy efforts of generations of New Mexican parents, teachers, community organizations, and education experts. 

Melissa Candelaria joins Education team

By Maria Archuleta

I spoke with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s new senior education attorney, Melissa Candelaria, about the roots of her work in social justice. Melissa has years of legal, policy, and advocacy experience. She serves as an Oversight Commissioner for the 19 Pueblos District and is a citizen of the Pueblo of San Felipe. Melissa has worked for the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and for federal and state agencies, as well as non-profit organizations. She attended law school at UNM and received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did your upbringing influence your work?

I was born and raised in San Felipe Pueblo. My grandfathers and grandmothers and parents instilled me with core values of giving back to the community with the skills and gifts we have been blessed with by the Creator. They taught us to be generous in spirit and to do our part to make this world more conscious, caring, and compassionate. 

As Native young people, we were encouraged to embrace all that makes us special and unique and to treasure our shared language, culture, and traditions. My community understood that a Western education would enable us to participate and influence the larger community outside of the Pueblo, and I also knew I wanted to go away for college. I have always been interested in seeing and learning new things. 

Dartmouth was definitely a culture shock. So many of my peers went to elite prep schools, and I graduated from Bernalillo High School. I found my own way and learned to trust myself as a capable person and to excel academically in a competitive environment. I knew that my background made me very unique in this setting and helped me to synthesize the best of both worlds. 

Were you always interested in shaking up the education system?

Actually, yes. My undergraduate degree is in sociology and I minored in education. In public school, I didn’t see a diversity of students or teachers, the curricula left out the history and culture of indigenous peoples, and there was no Native language instruction at all. 

In college, I thought I was going to open my own charter school. I was very much interested in systemic change and creating a paradigm shift in education. I knew education opportunities for children of color, including more Native teachers in the classroom, was a way to make those changes. 

When I came back from college, I started working at a Native American prep school that has since closed. But my path changed, and I was drawn to assist tribal governments more broadly and worked on health and social services, development, sovereignty, and intergovernmental relations, but I always had special focus on education. 

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

Everybody already thought I was a lawyer. 

I had been working on public policy issues with the tribes and knew that having a legal background and skills would allow me to be a more effective advocate. It helped me empower individuals and communities to be successful and thrive. It goes back to my core values of giving back and serving others unconditionally and unselfishly. 

Having a law degree also made it possible to be an advocate at the national level. It was exciting to work on national public policy like the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act that impacted all of Indian country. I also had the privilege of working on state legislation like the Indian Education Act, which if implemented with the Yazzie/Martinez case would positively transform and further revolutionize education opportunities for our Native students. 

What do you hope to accomplish next?   

I approach my work with my heart. There is so much that still needs to be addressed for Native people and communities of color. The challenge is huge, but we cannot be discouraged by the enormity of the challenge.

I’m excited to be at the Center and to push for equitable education for all children. They deserve the opportunity to succeed. I’m very fortunate to and honored to work with the social justice champions here. 

Immigrant rights organizations denounce Sheriff Gonzales’ collaboration with Trump’s shadow police force


ALBUQUERQUE –  Bernalillo County Sheriff, Manuel Gonzales III, announced Tuesday afternoon he will meet with President Trump and Attorney General William Barr at the White House on Wednesday to discuss BCSO’s efforts to “combat crime.” This news comes after CBS News published a memo detailing that the Department of Homeland Security is considering Albuquerque as one of a few cities where more than 175 federal officers could be deployed.

The following is a joint statement by community groups in Bernalillo County expressing opposition to Sheriff Gonzales’ meeting with the Trump administration and the possibility of deploying paramilitary forces in NM:

Systemic racism pervades every institution of government, and unfortunately law enforcement is often its executor as proven by their systemic violence, brutality, abuse, and killings of Black and Brown lives across the country as a way to carry out a white supremacist agenda.

We unequivocally denounce the possible deployment of Trump’s federal paramilitary force in a majority community of color; this action is simply another damaging tactic laced with xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment that does not make families safe. It is a ploy to distract the nation from the failures of the Trump administration during a global pandemic while further descending into a totalitarian regime in the U.S.

The relationship between local law enforcement and our communities is already a fractured one as our city and county have experienced a deep and persistent history of police brutality and abuse. Most recently highlighted with the shooting of an unarmed protester by Steven Baca, the son of a former Bernalillo County Sheriff.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ meeting with the Trump administration will only exacerbate the distrust and fear our families carry day to day, keeping domestic abuse survivors or victims of wage theft silent out of fear of deportation.

We must denounce any attempt to deploy a paramilitary force to our city. We strongly object to the meeting between the Bernalillo County Sheriff and the Trump administration, and we strongly object to the deployment of this paramilitary force into our county and our city.

Signed: NM Dream Team, El CENTRO De Igualdad y Derechos, Partnership for Community Action, Encuentro, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Enlace Comunitario

Trump cuts to food assistance violate sovereignty of Native American Nations

By Christy Chapman, Native American Budget and Policy Institute and Tim Davis, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

No one should go without access to food in the United States. However, in the middle of a global pandemic when thousands of people are losing their jobs everyday, the Trump administration continues to pursue cuts to food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide by limiting unemployed adults to just three months of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance in a three year period.  

There are 23 sovereign nations in the territorial boundaries of New Mexico whose communities will be harmed by this rule. Yet, the federal government failed to consult these sovereign nations, or any others, on the proposed rule that would disproportionately impact Native communities and disrespects the sovereignty of Native governments. 

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty argue in an amicus brief that as a result the rule is illegal and should be blocked. 

Federal law has long limited SNAP for unemployed adults without children. However, states have flexibility to request waivers for areas with high unemployment and, if unemployment was high state-wide, the whole state could be waived from the time limit. The new rule would limit this flexibility and make it more difficult to obtain waivers for areas of high unemployment including sovereign Native American nations.  

The rule would disproportionately impact several Native American communities, where historically, the unemployment rate can be greater than 50%. In small and rural communities, the only job opportunities may be in the education, health, or government sector. 

The Trump administration ignored written comments against the rule documenting the significant harm it would cause American Indian/Alaskan Native communities. This violates the trust responsibility between the federal government and Native American Nations created by treaties when these Nations ceded large portions of their aboriginal lands to the United States in return for the right to self-government with reserved lands. 

The colonial land seizures restricted access to food, income and agriculture caused widespread food insecurity that persists today. Historic and ongoing systemic inequalities cause many Native American communities to be without the infrastructure and economic development opportunities for adequate employment for all its members. 

A federal court has temporarily stopped the rule and could permanently block it. Congress should also stop the rule and has already suspended its implementation during the public health emergency. 

Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations are in the best position to determine public policy within their territorial boundaries and for their members. In this time of racial reckoning and as the COVID-19 crisis exposes long standing systemic inequalities in New Mexico, the federal government must fulfill its trust responsibility and fully recognize the sovereignty of Native American nations. Under no circumstances should the federal government take food assistance away from people who can’t find work.

Healthcare Attorney/Policy Advocate

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is hiring an attorney or policy advocate to carry out advocacy to improve the healthcare system for children and families.

The Center is a nationally recognized non-profit law firm that engages in systemic advocacy and impact litigation to advance the health, economic and educational wellbeing of New Mexico’s families. We partner with our communities to provide advocacy and representation through the courts, the legislature and administrative agencies, community education and media. To learn more about the Center, please visit our website at www.nmpovertylaw.org.

We seek a dynamic and creative attorney or policy advocate to work with community leaders throughout New Mexico on major reforms to the healthcare system. The Center’s Healthcare team is advancing innovative solutions to make healthcare affordable for all New Mexicans, protect Medicaid coverage, reduce medical debt and ensure equitable policies as prioritized by immigrant, Native American and low-income communities, and in collaboration with a broad network of community partners, leaders and advocates. This position will conduct policy advocacy and analysis, legislative efforts, media work, community education and coalition-building. Attorneys will additionally provide legal representation in systemic cases.

Required: minimum three years of policy or legal advocacy; passionate about healthcare reform; excellent research, writing and advocacy skills; ‘no-stone-unturned’ thoroughness and persistence; strong leadership skills and ability to problem-solve creatively; ability to develop expertise in complex regulations and policies; commitment to economic, racial and gender justice. Preferred: Spanish, Indigenous language or other language fluency; experience with lobbying, legislative and government processes, budget analysis, media, and coalition building.

Apply in confidence by emailing a resume and cover letter to contact@nmpovertylaw.org. We are an equal opportunity employer and committed to equity in our work. Native Americans, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals and people who have grown up in New Mexico are especially encouraged to apply.