Essay of the Week I was a student of color at an elite school. The cheating scandal doesn’t surprise me.
The following essay was written by Bianca Sierra Wolff, a lawyer, Stanford Law grad, and Deputy Director at California ChangeLawyers.
Federal prosecutors just indicted over 30 wealthy parents in the largest higher education scam in history. Wealthy parents scammed, faked, colluded, and cheated their way into elite schools.
And yet none of this surprises me. Instead, this scandal is a reminder that higher education, like so many of our American institutions, has always favored the wealthy and privileged.
Too many kids of color don’t even get the chance to attend schools like Harvard and Stanford. And for those who do, the burden of having fought your way into these schools stays with you. You never fully celebrate your successes because self-doubt, insecurities, and anxiety take over.
I should know. I was one of those kids.
While I was shocked and happy to get my Stanford college acceptance letter, I immediately felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. My parents were immigrants. My dad had become disabled and could no longer work. I held a part-time job to help make ends meet. I saw my acceptance into Stanford as my one shot at a future for myself and my family; as proof to all those who had told us to go back to Mexico or made fun of our accents, that we actually did belong.
And then I stepped foot on campus and my jaw dropped. All my classmates who drove the latest model Mercedes Benz or bragged about their movie star family friends -- they all had one thing in common: they were so sure they belonged at a place like Stanford. I never did. Instead of celebrating my successes, I simply felt like I wasn’t good enough. And if I’m honest with myself, the stress of always having to prove myself has never really gone away.
This is why the cheating scandal hits such a nerve.
Poor students of color are told to keep their heads down and work hard and success will be yours. This is an outright lie. There are two sets of rules -- the rules for poor kids of color like me and then the rules for rich kids like the ones embroiled in this scandal.
The cheating scandal forces us to ask: what is the difference between a kid whose parents paid to lie about being an athletic recruit or whose parents donated millions of dollars to a school to ensure their kids get in. I honestly don’t see much of a difference.
It’s time for a reckoning. It’s time to speak the truth: the story of higher education in American is the story of racism and economic inequity. Until we have an honest conversation- until we admit that the playing field is not level -- exceptional students who overcame incredible odds will continue to feel the stigma of not being good enough while privileged kids will continue to think that their spot at Stanford is owed to them.
Read the story on ChangeLawyers Blog
#ChangeLawyers Meet the lawyers who help people get through Trump’s “second wall”
Jess Temple — a staff attorney for the group One Justice — is kneeling on a sticky bus seat with a clipboard of papers. A batch of attorneys is staring back at her, quietly eating free granola bars and Valentine’s Day candy.
“So I want to start first by getting a quick show of hands for folks who have been on the bus with us before?” Temple says. A few attorneys raise their hands to a smattering of applause. “Everybody else, welcome to your first Justice Bus!”
One Justice is a non-profit that works to bring legal services to high-need communities throughout California, and the Justice Bus is one of its most popular programs. It connects volunteering attorneys with legal residents who want to become citizens. Under the Trump Administration, that process is taking longer and getting tougher.
Legal residents are waiting twice as long as they were two years ago for their citizenship applications to be processed, creating a backlog at a time when some immigrants are particularly nervous about their status. The application process itself is increasingly expensive and intimidating, and in California, there aren’t enough legal aid attorneys to go around.
“Anyone want to guess how many full-time legal aid attorneys are in the state of California?” Temple asks volunteers. A few lawyers hazard a guess, but their answers are generally too optimistic. “It’s about 800,” Temple says. “That’s about 1 for every 16,250 Californians in need.”
This “justice gap” gets even worse in rural communities. So, One Justice came up with a novel solution. The organization recruits corporate attorneys from San Francisco and Los Angeles’ top law firms and gives them a crash course in immigration law. Then the Justice Bus shuttles them to Central Valley communities for free legal aid clinics.
Right now, the Justice Bus is lurching through traffic towards Stockton. One Justice has seen an increase in volunteers since President Trump was elected, and most of today’s attorneys are riding the Justice Bus for the first time.
“This is phenomenally different from what I’m usually doing,” says Justin Fisch, an associate at the corporate law firm Morrison & Foerster.
Fisch immigrated to the US from Canada when he was 11 years old. He’s one of several volunteering attorneys who watched a parent navigate the immigration system, or went through it themselves. Fisch’s father is an American citizen, and he says that made immigrating to the United States relatively easy. He doesn’t expect his clients at today’s clinic to be that lucky, and he’ll only have a few hours to help each of them with their case.
“You have to really, as a representative, gain their trust and imbue confidence that they should trust you with their story, they should trust you with what you write down on that form,” Fisch says. “And that's difficult to do in the scope of a few hours. So I expect the learning curve to be very quick.”
Read the story on KALW
#ChangeLawyer Part II SF’s new Public Defender wants to learn about his client’s lives
The first thing Mano Raju does when he meets clients — whether it’s someone accused of theft or even murder — is learn about their lives. The details of a case and evidence that may have landed them behind bars can wait. He wants to know about their families and communities.
It’s part philosophy and part legal strategy, and his colleagues say the approach makes Raju a force in the courtroom. That attitude has propelled his career as a defense attorney, which hit a high point Monday when Mayor London Breed appointed him as San Francisco’s new public defender following the sudden death of his boss Jeff Adachi last month.
Despite the heavy workload that comes with his new job, Raju, 50, said his focus won’t stray from the people he serves.
“I love my clients,” he said. “I think when you really understand them, you can bring that into a courtroom and share that with the jurors, who will be more likely to see things from their perspective.”
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday inside the public defender’s headquarters on Seventh Street in San Francisco, Raju spoke about his principles on criminal defense. He came in that morning to find his computer moved to his late boss’ office. Adachi’s movie posters, framed articles and artwork had been returned to his family. All that remained were stark white walls and empty shelves.
As public defender, Raju said his policy priorities will be strengthening the office’s recent achievements, including legal and legislative efforts around bail reform, immigration defense and community engagement.
While Adachi was a famously outspoken leader who manned bullhorns at demonstrations and never shied away from stirring up controversy, Raju — who spent the last four years as a managing attorney in the office’s felony unit — is noticeably more reserved. The increased media attention has been a departure from his previous position behind the scenes.
But when necessary, Raju said, he won’t hesitate to put up a fight.
“When I’m doing a trial in closing argument, I bring it,” he said. “So, having said that, I’m sure my style will differ from Jeff’s, but I’m still comfortable, and I really believe in the work that we do.”
The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, which had numerous clashes with Adachi over the years, is waiting to see how Raju approaches the position.
“As long as he’s not coming at my members who are non-deserving, I’ll keep an open mind,” union President Tony Montoya said. “We will wait and see.”
Danielle Harris, who was partnered with Raju as a manager of the public defender’s felony unit, called him an “extraordinarily good listener.”
“He is very approachable,” she said. “He is very hands-on. He wants to know the details of things. He wants to understand issues. He’s not someone to throw out an opinion or a viewpoint until he understands what all of the factors are.”
Adachi helped build the public defender’s office into a premier criminal defense outfit. Attorneys often speak about their work as a calling rather than a job and their camaraderie jelled during Adachi’s 17 years in charge. He pushed the boundaries of the office, which became a force for police accountability as well as criminal and social justice reform.
Read the story on SF Chronicle
More of This The Latinx family that helped integrate California’s schools
Before Brown v. Board of Education ruled that the segregation of public schools violated the 14th Amendment, the landmark case Méndez v. Westminster ended school segregation in California – setting an important precedent for the future. Fueling this case was puertorriqueña Felicitas “La Prieta” Méndez, along with her husband, Gonzalo.
Born in Juncos, Puerto Rico, Felicitas Gómez moved to Arizona with her family at age 12. Hers was one of hundreds of Puerto Rican families recruited to work on cotton fields in Arizona in the 1920s. Within six months of their arrival, her father moved them to California, where Méndez met and married Gonzalo Méndez. The couple established roots – starting a family, a restaurant business, and becoming owners of a farm they had leased for many years.
In the 1940s, when Soledad, Felicitas’ sister-in-law, went to enroll her kids, niece, and nephews at a white school closer to the family farm, a school administrator told her, “Well, you can leave your children here, but you’ll have to take your brother’s kids to a Mexican school.” Soledad’s kids had a lighter complexion and the last name Vidaurri (their father was part French). The Méndez kids had skin like their mother, known as “La Prieta.” Soledad refused the offer; her children wouldn’t attend a school where their cousins weren’t welcome.
Soledad’s brother assured her that it must have been a mistake – until officials gave him the same answers they’d given his sister. Livid, Gonzalo requested support from a local Latino organization to challenge the county’s policy of school segregation. They wouldn’t back him. Felicitas intervened on her dejected husbands path and persuaded him to take on the school district independently. Their farm was prospering, she reasoned, “We can do it alone. We have the money right now.”
The couple set out to sue the Westminster school district, but their lawyer made a bigger case of it. Méndez v . Westminster was filed in March of 1945 as a class-action lawsuit against four Orange County school districts so they would be legally forced to integrate. The American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Jewish Congress, and the Japanese American Citizens League also filed friends of the court briefs in favor of desegregation.
While the lawsuit consumed her husband’s time, Felicitas managed the farm for than a year. Under her leadership, it prospered more than ever before. Revenue from the farm paid for most of the legal proceedings. In addition to lawyer fees, the Méndez couple covered transportation costs and reimbursed pay for theother four families who appeared as witnesses in the case. Felicitas also organizedthe Asociación de Padres y Niños México-Americanos, a group which consisted of mostly farm workers and their families who were in support of the case.
The school district offered a compromise – if Gonzalo dropped the suit, they’d allow his three kids to attend the white elementary school. He refused, saying the the purpose of the lawsuit was to benefit the whole Mexican community, not just a handful of fortunate kids. Felicitas’s racialization informed her fight. In Arizona, people labeled her Black. While in California, they considered her Mexican.
“We had to do it. Our children, all of our children, brown, Black, and white [“bronceados, negros y blancos”] must have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be, and education gives them that opportunity,” she said.
In the final ruling in April 1946, the Ninth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld that segregation practices were unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment. Two months after this ruling, the legislature of California passed Assembly Bill 1375, which eliminated all segregation in California schools, including the segregation of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian children. The bill came into law in June 1947 and made California the first state in the country to end school segregation.
Read the story on Remezcla
Even More of This Young women of color are redefining what it means to be a philanthropist
“Your donation, however small, matters!” You've probably heard something like that from political fundraisers, sad animal commercials, friends on Facebook. So you click on those "Donate $5" buttons, submit your credit card to GoFundMe campaigns, then just sit back, hoping others are doing the same. But there are some people — even young non billionaires — who are getting the satisfaction of seeing their money make a real difference in their communities and in the world through another model of philanthropy: a giving circle.
Giving circles are groups of people who pledge to give a set annual donation, often around $1,000, and then work together to choose the recipients of their pooled money. Grants of, say, $10,000 can do a lot for a small nonprofit's budget. It's a very old-fashioned concept based on the way smaller communities used to help each other, but it's gaining ground now, as more people seek ways to connect to each other and make changes in the face of overwhelming odds.
"Some people, when they hear the word 'philanthropists,' they think 'rich, white old man,' " Masha Chernyak, vice president of programs and policy at the Latino Community Foundation, tells Refinery29. "That's not the case. It's not just the Zuckerbergs."
"I grew up watching my immigrant parents donate their time and their money to support our church, our community, and other family members who were having difficult times," says Janeth Medina, a DACA recipient who now works in banking and is a member of the San Francisco Latina Giving Circle. "I once supported a friend who was struggling to make her monthly installment for school. It was instilled in me to always help others.”
This kind of informal giving has often been overlooked when academics and nonprofit professionals study charitable giving. In its latest Women Give report, the Women's Philanthropy Institute found that in the U.S., 34% of African American and 33% of Latino households give to charities, compared to 59% of Asian American and 58% of white households. But when income and wealth are taken into account, those differences all but disappear.
Giving circles (of which 70% of members are women, often in women-only groups) harness that generous instinct of people who may not have realized that they can afford to donate and have an impact.
Read the story on Refinery29 >
Less of This Where are all the indigenous lawyers?
With a mother and her three children facing deportation, the immigration judge wanted to make sure the woman understood the charges against her. But even with the help of an interpreter speaking in Q’anjob’al, a Mayan language, Magdalena Lucas Antonio de Pascual appeared to comprehend little.
“What language do you speak?” Judge Philip S. Law asked.
“The reason why I left my country?” she replied through the translator.
“I came across the border illegally because I needed to,” she later told the judge.
“I am going to ignore what you just told me, because that’s not what I asked you,” he said. “I am trying to explain the process and your rights.”
Throughout the 50-minute hearing, the misunderstandings kept coming.
Ms. Antonio de Pascual is one of many migrants coming into the United States from remote areas of Central America who only speak indigenous languages. An increase in the number of these migrants is adding to delays in a court system that is already overwhelmed by a backlog of more than 800,000 cases. Now the courts do not have enough interpreters to serve them, pushing the system to its limits, many lawyers, interpreters and advocates say.
United States immigration officials provide interpreters in as many as 350 languages over all, including Mandarin, Creole, Punjabi, Arabic and Russian. But Mam, K’iche’ and Q’anjob’al — all indigenous to Guatemala — have each become one of the 25 most common languages spoken in immigration court in the past few years.
In San Diego, a Q’anjob’al speaker had her asylum hearing pushed back for more than a year because no interpreters were available. In another case, a man whose primary language is Mam was unable to explain that his family had been killed in his Guatemalan town, which could be a basis for asylum, his lawyer said. The problems have seeped into the criminal courts as well: In the case of one man accused of a misdemeanor battery, the court interpreter, who was speaking in Ixil, did not ask him if he was competent to stand trial, as the judge instructed, but instead told him to “pray to God,” according to a complaint filed in Wisconsin state court.
Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles and the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said the lack of interpreters was contributing to even more delays.
“It’s a colossal waste of our time to now have to reorganize hundreds of thousands of cases to deal with language issues and then there’s no interpreter,” Ms. Tabaddor said.
The small number of interpreters who do have a basic grasp of indigenous languages are still often ill-equipped to help — they must explain legal terms that are difficult to comprehend in any language and there are significant differences between regional dialects.
With migrants who cannot understand or be understood, lawyers and immigration experts say, there is no way to ensure fairness in court.
“We have an entire infrastructure set up where the default language is Spanish, but there are thousands of people coming to the southern border who can’t communicate that way — and they basically become invisible,” said Blake Gentry, a researcher who estimates that as many as a third of the migrants crossing the border through Arizona do not speak Spanish.
Immigration courts across the country have seen a steady rise in speakers of indigenous Guatemalan languages in the last five years, according to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the court. And they are only the most recent additions to the list, which for several years has routinely included Zapotec, Mixtec, Ixil and Popti, languages from southern Mexico and Central America.
“The lack of interpretation for indigenous people has been a problem for a long time,” said Odilia Romero, a Zapotec interpreter who has been an activist with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations for the last 20 years. “But what we see now is something entirely different: We have entire populations showing up with languages that we have not seen in the United States before.
Read the story on NY Times
Watch This US Officials are detaining and questioning immigration lawyers
Watch and read the story on NBC News
Listen to This A federal prosecutor interviews a civil rights lawyer
Bryan Stevenson is a a civil rights attorney who represents prisoners on death row. Described as “America’s Nelson Mandela,” his Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law firm based in Alabama, is dedicated to challenging racial injustice and ending mass incarceration. Stevenson is also the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
Listen on Cafe.com
Event Alert: Legal Services Funders Network
Join our 2019 Keynote Speakers, Margaret Hagan & Jason Solomon, at the 5th annual Legal Services Funders Network Signature Event as we further explore how to improve access to justice, the delivery of legal services, and public service law careers via human-centered design. Margaret and Jason will also discuss academia's role and trends as we move forward educating our next generation of legal services providers. .
March 21 from 3 to 5:00 PM. RSVP here >
Event Alert: 17th Cruz Reynoso Fellowship Gala
Berkeley Law La Raza Students Association is delighted to invite you to the 17th Annual Honorable Cruz Reynoso Fellowship Gala.
Each year, we award summer scholarships to promising La Raza law students pursuing social justice internships or judicial externships. These fellowships were created to support our dedicated Raza members in their efforts to provide culturally competent legal services to underserved communities and to advance their legal career. Through these scholarships, we aim to increase diversity in the legal field, and legal services to the Latinx community.
April 5 from 6 to 11:00 PM. Tickets here >
Watch this One Woman Show
When Irma Herrera gives her name its correct Spanish pronunciation, some people assume she’s a foreigner. She’s not. Irma proudly claims her Tejano roots and her Mexican and American identity as well as her native languages: Spanish and English. Irma worked three decades as a San Francisco civil rights lawyer and journalist. Her solo play Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? sheds light and throws shade on our prejudices and assumptions.
Tickets here >
Apply for this Law School Pipeline Program
Centro Legal de La Raza's Diversity Legal Pipeline program takes a proactive approach to encourage undergraduate students of color to gain a better understanding of the law school application process, LSAT exam overview, a simulated law class, presentation on careers in Law, a law school and law firm visit, and several attorney panels. The DLP is the next phase of the Youth Law Academy to assist undergraduate students navigate the law school application process.
Apply here >
Work for Stanford Law
The Levin Center is seeking a full-time Public Interest Career Counselor who will work with students and alumni to explore public interest nonprofit (domestic, foreign and/or international), private public interest firms, and public sector opportunities.
Apply here >
Work for Community Water Center
With support from California ChangeLawyers, CWC seeks a full-time, year-long Legal Fellow to provide legal assistance to communities without safe water and local water board members; create and update resources for community members and legal practitioners regarding drinking water governance and advocacy; and provide legal and advocacy support for other CWC programs as needed.
Apply here >
Work for Root & Rebound
OAKLAND -- DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT: Root & Rebound seeks a driven, experienced, and entrepreneurial Director of Development to join our senior management team. Apply here >
SAN BERNARDINO-- ATTORNEY:R&R is thrilled to be hiring a Reentry Attorney for the Rights, Equity and Law (R.E.A.L. Project)who will be based at the Time for Change Foundation (TFCF) in San Bernardino, to help formerly incarcerated women and their children and families navigate and overcome legal barriers stemming from past criminal justice system involvement. Apply here >
Work for CRLA
The LGBT Program Director coordinates CRLA’s statewide advocacy for LGBT people and leads the implementation of its goal to increase access to justice for low-income LGBT people in rural California, particularly LGBT farm workers. The LGBT Program Director position reports to the Deputy Director, and manages a team of four staff members, including one LGBT immigration fellow.
Sign up here >