Cover Story

In the Field: The Warrant Forgiveness Clinic

Julissa Torres ’24

A community-centered warrant forgiveness clinic centers members of the community directly impacted by the issue at hand. My project partner, Eve, and I worked closely with an attorney who had experience in this kind of project. They emphasized how important it was to plan and envision our warrant forgiveness clinic through a holistic lens, considering the daily lives of community members and how an event like the clinic would impact that. Will they have childcare the day of the event? What other legal and non-legal services might they find helpful? How can we show that we understand the value of the time community members invested in attending the event? This is what community organizing is about. A lot of the time, community organizing begins with questions and conversations, much like planning a warrant forgiveness clinic. What are the kinds of issues that the target community needs addressed? What tools and aid might benefit the target community? What kind of knowledge and assets does the community have that may inform and improve our work?

Many of the questions I asked in the planning of the clinic were similar versions of the above. My mentors reminded me that the clinic would act as a tool in resisting the overall oppressive system of mass incarceration. Something I’ve always struggled with was dealing with the pressure of wanting to fix the world, but not being able to. Grassroots Leadership emphasized the huge impact organizers can make, even with seemingly smaller projects and campaigns. With a community-centered warrant forgiveness clinic, we were hoping to reduce folks’ risk of arrest and deportation. No, this clinic could not guarantee that their cases would be dismissed, but it did promise an alternative to being incarcerated. I learned that it is important to celebrate even the small wins, and by perfecting the craft, in this case, the warrant forgiveness clinic, perhaps one day we might be able to plan a clinic that helps people with higher charges!

Community organizing has taught me the value in simple dialogue. I learned so much from talking to attorneys, to my supervisors and mentors, to my project partner, to community members. I felt empowered to ask questions.”

Julissa Torres ’24

I had many lessons about values during my time in Texas. A perspective I continue to think about is the value in community knowledge and holding knowledge as an asset. I realized quickly while doing research for the clinic that community organizing relies heavily on conversation and shared knowledge. The information that we need is not always available after a quick Google search. There’s lots of questions, but by initiating conversation, there may also be answers. It was also evident to me the value of feedback from the community. Another great way to center community voices is to be open to feedback. It only improves one’s work. I had the opportunity to attend two community meetings in Austin. During the second meeting, Eve and I presented an outline of the clinic to ICE Fuera de Austin, a group of Spanish-speaking immigrant women who attended the meeting to learn about changes made by the Supreme Court of the United States that may impact their community. The ICE Fuera de Austin members were able to ask us questions about the clinic, give insight on future issues organizers should tackle, and shared observations and stories concerning the increased policing in their communities. This meeting helped me understand the issues important to community members in Austin, but it also left me quite impressed by how observational and knowledgeable these women were. Oftentimes, as directly impacted people of over-policing, one simply must keep their guard up and eye out at all times. One also must understand how systemic changes impact them. The women knew how the changes made by the Supreme Court could impact them and their children. For example, businesses discriminating against members of the LGBTQ+ community opened doors for them to discriminate against folks based on race, religion, country of origin, etc. The overturning of affirmative action will impact the women’s children when they grow up and go to college. I learned so much from that meeting, and it was because these directly impacted women chose to participate. The dialogue in the ICE Fuera de Austin meeting inspired Eve and I to include more opportunities for the community to learn about systemic changes like Operation Lone Star, Supreme Court decisions, and others at the clinic. This one community meeting showed me just how valuable community knowledge can be in improving my work.

Planning this clinic was not an easy task, but I feel confident that my experience and what I learned in Austin will aid me in planning a clinic in my own community in Las Vegas. Community organizing has taught me the value in simple dialogue. I learned so much from talking to attorneys, to my supervisors and mentors, to my project partner, to community members. I felt empowered to ask questions. I also found that a lot of the time the community finds you. I was approached by folks in Austin who were curious about the clinic, or people who simply just wanted to get to know me. From those conversations, I gained inspiration, insights, and genuine connections. I spent the better half of my college experience in a pandemic that required me to keep my distance from others and fear close proximity. The conversations I had in Austin reminded me how much can be shared and changed between humans when we connect on something important to us.

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