Rural Justice Updates

What Pride Means to Me by Lisa Cisneros

Photo by David Bacon

I am a rural LGBTQ civil rights attorney. On any given day in my office in the heart of a farmworker community, I might open a new case by interviewing an LGBTQ immigrant. Most likely, she is a transgender woman who has survived a violent attack here in the U.S. or in her home country. She is a survivor, forging ahead with her life. She is fighting for her rights. She hasn’t given up.

I might pick up the phone and hear the voice of a parent. Parents regularly call us seeking help for their LGBTQ children. Their children come out, sometimes very young, and they struggle in schools ill-equipped to support them. From a young age, LGBTQ children often have that special wisdom that a strong life, a life of meaning, requires authenticity.

Throughout the year my colleagues and I team up with rural LGBTQ leaders. These leaders have an unshakeable vision. They might dream of an LGBTQ center that transforms their small town or city. They might plan to break the silence in their local schools around LGBTQ issues. They might be on a quest to make their streets and homes safer and more accepting.

I see pride in each one of these individuals. They are our heroes. In their daily lives, they model courage, perseverance, tenacity, or “ganas” as we often say in Spanish. These core strengths, this pride, sets the foundation for our resilience as an LGBTQ community.

What makes Pride season so special is that we collectively bring out into public those superpowers we use to get through our daily lives as LGBTQ folks, moving through a world that does not always understand or embrace us. We are unapologetic about our lives, our love, our style. We celebrate and share our joy. We pay homage to the fearless trans women of color and homeless queer youth who fought back against police brutality and criminalization, and inspired, indeed, propelled our movement forward. Pride is a building block for our external power that is steadily transforming society around us. That is what we celebrate. That is what pride means to me.

This article originally appeared on The California Endowment website,
Reprinted with permission from The California Endowment.

Thank You San Diego


CRLA and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego hosted a joint reception in San Diego to celebrate legal services champions: State Senator Ben Hueso, Assemblymember Dr. Lorena Gonzalez and Assemblymember Shirley Weber.

Click here for a photo gallery of local supporters, public officials and community leaders! >>

Education is a Civil Right for Immigrant Communities

Morsal Amini, a refugee from Afghanistan is pictured Friday, March 16, 2018 at her Modesto home. Amini was denied enrollment last month at the Language Institute at Davis High School. Photo: Andy Alfaro / The Modesto Bee]

CRLA Modesto - Directing Attorney Jessica Jewel is representing the Amini sisters. Morsal and Nargis are from Afghanistan, where girls are often denied an education. Shockingly, the sisters are being kept out of school here, in California.

Read more here>>

Click to watch a video interview >>


KGO-ABC7 Town Hall - #MeToo: Allies In Action

CRLA has a long history of seeking justice on behalf of women who have bravely stood up and said NO MÁS to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The #NOMÁS campaign elevates the stories of women who fight back, educates women about their rights, and litigates these case in the court of law.

Estella Cisneros, CRLA Fresno Directing Attorney appeared on a powerhouse panel at the Hispanic National Bar Association Conference with Dolores Leal, CRLA's major supporter and host of our Tardeada, and Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rodgers, among others to discuss sexual harassment and Latinas.

Estella was featured at KGO-ABC7 Town Hall- #MeToo: Allies In Action. This roundtable featured leaders from tech, philanthropy, academia and labor rights to discuss how to prevent sexual harassment.

Watch the Roundtable>>

Spotlight on Blanca

Blanca Bañuelos (right)

Blanca Bañuelos, Director of the Migrant Unit, was honored with the Justice Cruz Reynoso Community Service Award by the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA).  This prestigious award was presented before an audience of over 800 Latino legal leaders. Blanca’s tireless work as a farmworker advocate inspired this honor.

Listen to Blanca’s remarks >>

See images of the event >>

Under Siege But Never Giving Up

Mariano Alvarez.

Mariano Alvarez has played an important role in helping indigenous Mexican communities who were victims of the North Bay Fires.

Indigenous communities are under siege and invisible, but Mariano provides the help they need.

Watch and read about the struggles of this community >>

Key Issues Facing Dairy Workers

Esmeralda Zendejas.

Esmeralda Zendejas of the Migrant Program discusses wage theft and workplace dangers faced by dairy workers. The client highlighted in this story, Luis Alberto Echeverria Melchor, was featured in the 2016 Annual Report.

“He had worked at the dairy for eight months when, in March of 2008, a cow kicked him in the chest. He didn’t remember the kick, only that he woke up staring at the barn’s ceiling while a coworker fanned his face with a shirt…

More About This Story>>

CRLA Staff Updates

Estella Cisneros of CRLA's Fresno Office.

Estella Cisneros and Ephraim Camacho of CRLA’s Fresno office were recently featured in a Mother Jones story on the dangers of heat stress for farmworkers living in the Central Valley. Every year, at least four farmworkers nationwide die from heat illness. CRLA trains farmworkers on heat stress prevention and monitors to ensure compliance with laws requiring employers to provide shade, rest, and drinking water. Click here to read more:

Blanca A. Bañuelos, is being honored by MABA with the Edward R. Roybal Public Service Award.

Congratulations to CRLA’s Blanca A. Bañuelos, Director of the Migrant Unit – she is being honored by the Mexican American Bar Association of Los Angeles County (MABA). Blanca will receive the Edward R. Roybal Public Service Award for her sincere commitment to improving the lives of those belonging to marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable communities.

Summer Law Fellowships

From L to R: Arturo Gonzalez, Interns Marisela Bernal and Ilene Reynoso.

Legal interns play a crucial role at CRLA, helping bring justice to rural communities. Law students gain practical experience and a deeper understanding of the issues facing low income populations in rural California. CRLA supporter Arturo Gonzalez believes so strongly in the importance of the internship experience that he generously underwrote two fellowships for Latino law students in 2017.

Arturo Gonzalez, partner at Morrison & Foerster and a nationally recognized litigator, is a long-time CRLA supporter. 

I was motivated to underwrite a Law Fellowship because I used to pick peaches in the Central Valley. I respect what CRLA does to help farmworkers. We all need to give back where we can.  There is still a tremendous need for Latino lawyers. Many law students have problems finding summer legal jobs. If we all contribute, we can help students pay their rent, add something to their resume, and help Latino law students in need.  A Fellowship provides a work experience that is critical if students are to progress in their careers. Watching other lawyers and staff interact with clients and opposing counsel gives law students an important glimpse into the legal market. CRLA is the ideal organization to support because there is an increasing need for energetic and committed people who want to serve the poor. Now more than ever, we have to ensure that migrant workers and their families are treated fairly. I want to encourage other lawyers to consider underwriting a fellowship.  Many of us are fortunate to have more than we need. But our time is limited. By funding a fellowship, we pay it forward--giving law students an opportunity to help those in need.

Education Equity in Bakersfield

Cynthia L. Rice and Jade Crawford.

Parents, students and local residents came together on Friday, September 16th in Bakersfield to discuss next steps after the groundbreaking settlement with Kern High School District leading to historic changes in school discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color. The community meeting featured information from experts who are working with CRLA to aid the Kern High School District in improving their discipline practices.  Over 60 people attended to share their concerns, their experiences with the school district, and their hopes for the future. CRLA’s legal team, along with our nonprofit partners Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Equal Justice Society and MALDEF, shared information and answered questions.  Attendees included the Kern High School Superintendent and many teachers. The meeting was the first of several planned to help the district to address the inequities highlighted by the lawsuit. Go to to see images of Education Justice in Action!






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