The Child & Family Justice Initiative aims to increase the number of UNM Law graduates, including those traditionally underrepresented in social justice lawyering, who practice in community organizations pursuing justice and racial equity.
About the Fellowship for Transformative Advocacy
One of the major goals of the Child & Family Justice Initiative is to increase the number of UNM Law graduates who work in community organizations pursuing justice and racial equity. This led to the creation of the two-year Fellowship for Transformative Advocacy.
The Fellowship provides an opportunity for new lawyers to positively impact the social determinants of health and well-being of vulnerable children and families in New Mexico’s most underserved communities through legal advocacy and policy work.
Transformative Advocacy Fellows partner with a non-profit host organization in New Mexico. If the organization is not a civil legal services provider, the host organization must demonstrate that it is able to provide adequate supervision by an experienced attorney.
Each Fellowship must involve a new project that aims to eliminate racial disparities and improve the health or well-being of New Mexico’s most vulnerable children and families through legal advocacy and policy work/advocacy in tribal, state, or federal courts and governmental entities.
UNM Law will provide $41,000 to the host organization each year during the two-year commitment toward the salary of the Fellow. Host organizations are encouraged to set the Fellow’s salary commensurate to what an attorney with similar experience or responsibility would receive in their organization. Furthermore, host organizations must provide employee health and fringe benefits to the Fellow in the same way they provide these benefits to their employees. Fellows are entitled to receive up to $10,000 in loan repayment assistance.
The Transformative Advocacy Fellows
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
Jazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz’s heart is for the low-income, immigrant, and underserved marginalized communities in Albuquerque and rural New Mexico. She began her work as a Child and Family Justice Fellow with the Institute of Legal Training and Instruction (“Instituto Legal”) and transitioned to working with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. Jazmín’s project consisted of providing legal services and education to low-income immigrant consumers and entrepreneurs related to immigration, consumer protection, financial literacy, and business development.
Since day one, Jazmín was on the go. She provided an encouraging speech to immigrant youth and families at a rally on the same day that the Trump Administration announced the rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”). She presented at the UNM Communications and Journalism Department for a DACA colloquium; taught a three-month business course at Encuentro Nuevo Mexico; presented on independent contracting both in-person at Instituto Legal and through a Facebook Live feed; and spoke at the Mexican Consulate to a group of people from Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Vegas, and Espanola. Finally, in collaboration with the NM Dream Team, Enlace Communitario at San Juan Community College, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, MECHA, NM Highlands University, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, local churches, ACLU Las Cruces, Jazmin has served children and families in San Juan County, San Miguel County, Lea County, Curry county, Chavez County, and Dona Ana County. In her own words, “[t]here is so much work to be done . . . ,” and Jazmín is ready to go. Click here to watch Jazmín Irazoqui Ruiz in Episode 3 of the CFJI Podcast.
New Mexico Legal Aid
Riley Masse, a member of the first class of Fellows for Transformative Advocacy, joined New Mexico Legal Aid in 2017 with a project designed to serve the needs of vulnerable children and families facing the devastating impact of housing instability. Through direct representation, community education and outreach, and policy work, the project sought to lower the drastic eviction rate in New Mexico and protect families’ existing housing subsidies.
One of the major successes of the project was setting up a weekly table in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. At this table, Riley provides free, brief advice and information to pro se litigants as they come to housing court. Additionally, she assists pro se litigants in filling out forms, again at no cost. As the project progressed, Riley provided on-the-spot representation in cases where it became clear that additional advocacy was necessary. In a similar effort, Riley and New Mexico Legal Aid’s housing unit partnered with the Economic Justice Clinic at the UNM School of Law as well as Harvard’s Access to Justice Lab to study the impact of representation and various other levels of service in eviction cases. By examining the results of the study, legal service providers are able to provide more effective modes of service to low-income families and, hopefully, thereby reduce the eviction rate long-term.
Disability Rights New Mexico
“How we care for and protect our state's youth is a direct reflection of our expectations for their futures.” This is Jesse Clifton’s conviction. Working with Disability Rights New Mexico, Jesse’s goal is to reduce the school-to-jail pipeline, even closing it in select schools. Minority students and students with disabilities are vastly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. He wants to ensure that students are receiving the free and appropriate education to which they are entitled by ensuring that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) are being properly tailored to the students who need them. This will inevitably curb the disparate racial impact that currently exists in school discipline and referrals to the juvenile justice system. According to Jesse, this project will take him all over the state with 75% of his time being allocated to engaging rural school districts and 25% to more urban areas.
For Jesse, this work is personal. With a seven-year-old daughter who benefits from an IEP, special education is an interest of his, and he understands that each student is unique in their talents and skills. He acknowledges that the school-to-jail pipeline is not a problem that will be solved during the two-year fellowship period. However, the work in which Jesse will be engaged is necessary to focus on where and how to have the most impact because this project will continue even after Jesse has completed his fellowship. Click here to watch Jesse Clifton in Episode 1 of the CFJI Podcast.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Before attending the UNM School of Law, Nadine Padilla was a community organizer for nine years. She will tell anyone who asks, “Securing justice for minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution is what brought me to law school.” Now, in addition to community organizing, Nadine is community lawyering. Working with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Nadine joined the second class of Child and Justice Family Fellows seeking to advocate for NM’s most vulnerable children and families. Through policy and legal advocacy, Nadine was addressing the ambient air pollution concentrated in low-income communities of color in Albuquerque, specifically in the South Valley. Because ambient air pollution is a significant contributor to childhood respiratory illness, Nadine’s project aimed to mitigate and, in some instances, eliminate a substantial cause of childhood illness. Decreasing the number of polluting industries in vulnerable communities would yield an increase in the quality of the air, thus resulting in a decrease in health risks. Partway through her Fellowship, Nadine was appointed to serve as the Deputy Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs, a victory for children and families all throughout the state of New Mexico.
Zoila Alvarez Hernández
ACLU of New Mexico
When asked about the inspiration behind her desire to pursue a career in law, Zoila Alvarez Hernández points to attorney Philip Banks, otherwise known as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From a young age, Zoila saw in Uncle Phil someone who rose to a position of power and wealth and used that position to help his family and community. For Zoila, using her interdisciplinary skills to advocate for others, has been at the core of her being from a young age. As the eldest of four girls in a mixed-status immigrant family, her Spanish-speaking parents relied heavily on her to translate for and advocate on behalf of the family. Those experiences inspired her to pursue higher education and served to empower her as a young professional and woman of color. Zoila is the first in her family to graduate from high school and obtain a BA, MA, and JD, and it was because of her unwavering commitment to her dream. She refused to allow any obstacle prevent her from achieving what she set out to accomplish, whether it was being raised by a single mother, working two jobs as an undergraduate UNM student, or applying to law school three times before she was accepted.
While in law school, Zoila helped co-found the Immigration Law Student Association and served as a Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project Fellow. In 2018, Zoila worked as a student attorney for the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinic in Boston hosted at Greater Boston Legal Services where she worked with South American and Caribbean asylees. Zoila is now committed to creating lasting impact in New Mexico for children and families through her Corinne Wolfe Fellowship, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM). In collaboration with organizations serving the local community, Zoila seeks to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico’s immigrant children and families by reducing the entanglement of state resources with ICE and enforcing immigrants’ civil rights through strategic litigation, education, and policy advocacy. Like Uncle Phil, she will use her position to help her family and New Mexican community as a young, first-generation professional and woman of color.
Verenice Peregrino Pompa
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
It was not until she was seven years old that Verenice Peregrino Pompa moved to the United States from Mexico and began learning English. As a Mexican immigrant growing up in Colorado, Verenice saw firsthand the lack of services and basic opportunities available to immigrants. For the services that were available, Verenice often served as the interpreter between her parents and agency representatives as they tried to secure services. Experiencing these inequities ignited her desire to pursue a career as an attorney.
Moving to New Mexico to attend UNM was a culture shock for Verenice in the best way. In high school, there were only two Mexican families in her Colorado community. Attending UNM, a Hispanic Serving Institution, Verenice learned alongside numerous peers who were also Mexican-American and excelling in educational endeavors, which for her was inspiring.
At UNM Law, Verenice served as President of the highly regarded Mexican American Law Student Association and externed with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Following a rewarding experience there, Verenice created a language access project in collaboration with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty as a Fellowship recipient. Now, her focus is to ensure that any state agency in New Mexico that receives federal funding will fulfill its duty to provide translation and interpreting services. Much of her work on the front end will consist of intensive research as well as building relationships with other entities. Currently, a number of state agencies in New Mexico are failing to fulfill their duty to non-English speakers, and enforcement has been lax to nonexistent. Through policy advocacy at the legislature, Verenice intends to bring justice to indigenous populations as well as immigrant populations by making sure that they can understand, in their own language, the resources available to them. Click here to watch Verenice Peregrino Pompa in Episode 2 of the CFJI Podcast.
Non-Profit Host Organizations
The following are non-profit organizations that our Transformative Advocacy Fellows have partnered with: