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. 

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico

Education is fundamental to our future, but our students don’t have equal opportunities in our school system—a reality aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. Now more ever, we need to fight for the public schools New Mexico’s students need and deserve. 

A new video on the landmark Yazzie lawsuit makes it clear why we must transform our education system now.

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico follows the personal story of parent turned education advocate Wilhelmina Yazzie. Her story is one of love and perseverance, culture and language, and the reality of how opportunity gaps harm New Mexico and its children. 

Every child deserves to graduate ready for college and career and to pursue their dreams. This was the reason Wilhelmina, along with other families and school districts across New Mexico, brought the lawsuit against the state for violating students’ constitutional right to a sufficient education.

The video is especially timely now. Last week, on behalf of the Yazzie plaintiffs, our legal team responded to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The legal brief argued that court oversight is essential to protecting students’ constitutional right to an equitable education and that the state should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible.

There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.

Watch the video and share it with your networks and on social media these next few days and through the date of the hearing.

Facing this Emergency Together

Friends,

Protecting our families, loved ones and community is at the top of all our minds as we face this public health emergency together. The Covid-19 pandemic brings enormous challenges—practicing social distancing for our health and safety, while also responding to the economic consequences. As businesses close down, thousands of people are losing their jobs. More than 10,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment benefits in just one week. 

This crisis exposes long-standing inequities for working families, and demands urgent action. It has made it abundantly clear that what we fight for—healthcare, housing, income and food support, childcare, workers’ rights, and educational opportunities—is fundamental to our communities.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sent recommendations to our state leaders calling for a united and comprehensive response. We have been circulating “know your rights” information and critical updates about actions being taken at the national and state levels to bring down healthcare costs, expand income assistance, and prevent evictions and utility shut offs. Please join us in sharing this information widely with your networks and on social media, and stay tuned for alerts about ways to get involved as we work with you and our community partners on solutions.

We thank our Governor and policymakers for their leadership. We know there is much more to do. We vow to stand with you as we face this together.

Sincerely,
Sireesha Manne

5 things you should know about your rights as a worker during coronavirus

By Stephanie Welch, director of Workers’ Rights

Termination
Your employer can’t fire you if you are placed in isolation or quarantine. Employers who violate this legal protection could owe up to $5,000 in penalties.

Unemployment
If you are laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Contact the Department of Workforce Solutions for more information. . You can apply for unemployment benefits online at www.jobs.state.nm.us or by calling DWS at (877) 664-6984.

Privacy Rights
Your employer has to keep all medical information about you private and confidential. This includes if you have the coronavirus.

Discrimination
It is illegal for employers to mistreat you because of your race, national origin, or ethnic background. This means your employer can’t treat you differently than your coworkers because you are Asian or from another country affected by coronavirus. Contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you are facing discrimination at work. 

Sick Leave
If your employer provides you with paid sick leave when you are ill or need medical treatment, it must allow you to take that paid leave to care for a family member. Family member means a spouse or domestic partner, parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, child, foster child, grandchild, great-grandchild, brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle.

Please call 505-255-2840 with any questions. Watch the video in English or Spanish. Get the handout in English or Spanish.

5 things you should know about the new public charge rule

By Teague González, director of Public Benefits

Changes to the “Public Charge” rule go into effect today. Some of the changes include allowing the government to deny permanent residency (green cards) and visa renewals to certain lawfully present immigrants who participate in basic need programs like Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and housing assistance.

The Trump administration is counting on fear to harm immigrant families and turn lifesaving programs against families. But the new public charge rule change applies to very few immigrants. Get all the facts and always talk to someone to make the best choices for your family.

Here are 5 important things you need to know about public charge:

Number 1: The test does not apply to people who are already legal permanent residents — as long as they don’t leave the US for 6 consecutive months. 
Number 2: The rule does not apply to people who want to adjust from legal permanent resident to citizens. 
Number 3: It never applies to US citizen children. A US citizen child’s use of benefits is never counted against their parent no matter the parent’s immigration status. Please do not disenroll or cancel your US citizen children from Medicaid or Food Stamps without talking to someone first. 
Number 4: There are important exceptions to the public charge rule, for example, pregnant women may receive Medicaid during their pregnancies and up to 60 days after delivery and this will not be counted against them when they try to become legal permanent residents. The same goes for Medicaid use by children under 21 years of age who want to become legal permanent residents. 
Many categories of immigrants are exempt from the rule like T and U Visa holders, as are VAWA beneficiaries, and many other statuses. 
Number 5: Many government benefits are not included in the public charge rule like school breakfast and lunch, WIC, CHIP, unemployment benefits and many more. 

This is why it is very important that you talk with someone about the rule change before you make any decisions about canceling your benefits or your children’s benefits. 

Please call 505-255-2840 with any questions. Watch the video in English and Spanish. Get the handout in English or Spanish.