Rural Justice Updates

CRLA’s Partnership with UC Santa Cruz

CRLA is committed to fighting for justice for all rural workers, and we pride ourselves on being responsive to the evolving needs of our client communities.  The economic engine of many communities in rural California has shifted from agriculture to tourism, hospitality or other low-wage jobs.  Finding data that demonstrated this shift proved to be near impossible. CRLA began working with academic institutions to capture this information.  Gretchen Regenhardt, our Regional Director based in Watsonville initially worked with the Public Interest and Legal Aid to Rural Communities program out of UC Hastings College of Law to launch a survey of low-wage workers in Santa Cruz County.  This proved highly successful and in 2013 Gretchen took the work one step further by starting an innovative partnership with two world renowned research centers based out of University of California Santa Cruz:  The Center for Labor Studies and the Chicano Latino Research Center.  

With help from the Chicano-Latino Research Center, the Center for Labor Studies, led by Dr. Steve Mc Kay began a census of the invisible – training UCSC undergraduate students, many of whom were Spanish speakers, to interview workers using a survey designed to capture conditions in the workplace.  The data collection included about 1300 low-wage workers. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted, capturing the worker’s individual stories – creating a full picture of what workers face.  The worker’s narratives were used to create digital stories and portraits of the workers –to give a voice to people who are often rendered voiceless.  UCSC students provided data analysis that will be used by CRLA  and service providers to ensure that low-wage workers are getting the services and support that will meet their needs.  Additionally, engaging the students was a profound exercise bridging the gap between academia and real world struggles.  Some of the students had never had a conversation with a low-wage worker, while others of the students found the workers stories reflected their own experience and that of their families.   “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said UCSC student Nicholas Martinez.

On May 7th, the workers’ stories, the data, amazing photos and testimonials by participants took place at a very special event at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz.  The rich material is also available on a website, where you can learn more about this wonderful project.  “Working with Steve and his team was a great way for CRLA to extend our reach into the community, and to get real-time, impactful data about our client communities’ changing struggles,” said Gretchen.

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José and CRLA Honored

As you may recall, two very prestigious organizations, the California Latino Legislative Caucus and the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) honored José Padilla and CRLA.

The California Latino Legislative Caucus honored Jose Padilla and CRLA with the Latino Spirit Award.

José dedicated the award to his parents, Joe and Delia Padilla, who taught him the importance of public service and to always strive to improve the community. He thanked all the staff, volunteers, and partners of CRLA who have fought with him over the years for justice, fairness and legal access for all Californians.

The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) awarded CRLA with the Per Diem Project Award at the Association of American Law School’s 38th Conference on Clinical Legal Education. Members of CLEA donated thousands of dollars to CRLA! We thank them for their generosity! This type of support will allow us to continue to provide legal interns with the opportunity to gain practical legal experience and a place to help others.

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Latino Spirit Awards

 Recognition is a reminder that the people and causes that CRLA fights for are important to the rest of the society. CRLA and our Executive Director, and your friend and colleague, Mr. José Padilla will be recognized from two groups this May.

The California Latino Legislative Caucus will be honoring José at the 14th Annual Latino Spirit Awards. The Latino Caucus is made up of five State Senators and seventeen Assembly Members. The awards are a two day event from May 3 to May 4, 2015, in Sacramento that celebrates influential Latinos. The Latino Caucus selected José Padilla for his legal accomplishments and lifelong commitment to the Latino community.


On Wednesday, May 6, 2015, Jose will be speaking at the 2015 American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Clinical Conference. Jose is the keynote speaker at the conference and will discuss CRLA's work and the challenges to achieving social justice. CRLA will receive the Per Diem Award of the Clinical Legal Education Associate (CLEA) at the conference. This award is part of the Pier Diem Project, which CLEA created to acknowledge and support social justice groups. Our long history of working with law school legal clinics is why CLEA chose CRLA. Law school clinics give law students the opportunity to directly help clients while being supervised by an attorney.

The CLEA Per Diem Project asks those attending to donate an equivalent to a day's per diem, which will then be donated to CRLA to help continue our work.

To learn more about CLEA>>

Alleged Pepper Spray Misuse in Juvenile Detention Facilities

CRLA partners with other civil rights organizations to file a complaint with the Justice Department requesting a federal investigation into pepper spray use in San Diego juvenile detention facilities.

CRLA partners with other civil rights organizations to file a complaint with the Justice Department requesting a federal investigation into pepper spray use in San Diego juvenile detention facilities.

“CRLA gives marginalized groups– like Juvenile offenders – a voice.  Pepper spray use is often unchecked and rampant in detention facilities.  We want these youth to concentrate on personal development, not self-defense against excessive force.” – Prairie Bly, Directing Attorney – Vista

Copyright Associated Press


Welcome Marysville’s New Directing Attorney

Laura Clauson Ferree Laura Clauson Ferree joined CRLA in 2014 and feels very fortunate to be able to work with the dedicated Marysville CRLA staff serving Yuba, Sutter, and Colusa Counties.  

Laura received her law degree from the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C.  She graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service where she majored in Latin American Studies.  

Before joining CRLA, Laura helped create the Community Legal Program at the Family Resource Center of Truckee in Truckee, California.  In Truckee, Laura worked on poverty law issues in a small mountain community with seasonal workers struggling to work and live in an affluent tourist town.  Laura recently worked in Anchorage, Alaska for the Alaska State Human Rights Commission, helping ensure that workplaces and homes are free of unlawful discrimination.  

In addition to focusing on employee rights, Laura is passionate about ensuring that all students, regardless of background, have access to quality public education and the opportunity to attend college.

When she is not working, Laura loves to read, spend time with her husband and three rescue dogs, and travel the world with her daughter.

Click here to view photos from her welcoming reception

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Leaders don’t grow on trees…they grow at CRLA!

Oxnard, CA- Pacifica High School graduating senior Melesio Juarez earned over $28,000 in college scholarships from local organizations and a deep admiration from CRLA Oxnard staff who taught him valuable business and leadership skills during his volunteer tenure.

“Melesio started volunteering with our office about a year ago, we observed a great potential and guided him as to what steps to take so he could go to college and apply for scholarships,” said Irma Avila-Espinoza CRLA Oxnard Migrant Administrative Legal Secretary. “When I watched him walk across the graduation stage, I felt very proud that CRLA played a crucial and important role to his success.”

 The Oxnard Union High School District graduate immigrated to the US from Mexico when he was eleven years old. He and his family labored in the fields as migrant farmworkers working long hours for little pay.

“When I was working in the orange groves and strawberry and bell pepper fields, all I could think about was going to school and learning so that I could have a better life,” said Melesio.  “My parents taught me that I have to work hard for anything I wish to have in my life, and their valuable advice keeps me on track academically and socially.”

Melesio is tri-lingual.  He speaks Zapoteco, Spanish, and English fluently and is originally from Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico. Children from migrant families like Melesio’s face many unique higher education access challenges due to seasonal vocational relocations – the effects of which are compounded by language barriers.   These students are disproportionately less likely than their peers to graduate high school or go to college.  Melesio is a true success story.

“Coming from an indigenous background makes Melesio’s story even more impressive and endearing,” said Monica De la Hoya, CRLA Oxnard Directing Attorney. “Coming to the US less than ten years ago meant that he had to learn Spanish and English in addition to navigating the rigors of middle and high school.”

“Volunteering at CRLA, is the best choice I have made so far in my life besides going to school. They supported and mentored me at a crucial time in my schooling. The knowledge I have gained from them has opened many doors and endless opportunities for me.” Said Melesio

In the fall of 2014 Melesio Juarez will attend California State University Northridge where he plans to pursue a degree in economics.