Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Leah Rodriguez begins position as an Equal Justice Works Fellow

Thu, May 23, 2019
Leah Rodriguez begins position as an Equal Justice Works Fellow

"After graduating from The University of Texas with a major in Latin American Studies and a minor in Spanish, I enrolled in The University of Texas School of Law in 2016 to pursue a career in immigration law. Through academics, volunteer work, and lawyering, I have now been advocating for the immigrant community of Central Texas in some capacity for seven years. In particular, I have worked with community organizers and lawyers in their efforts to end immigrant detention. Representation and detention are both significant determinants of how an individual’s case will fare in immigration court; however, Mexican and Central American immigrants are both less likely to have an attorney and more likely to be in detention. This summer, I will study to take the Texas bar exam, bringing me one step closer to my goal of becoming a fearless immigration attorney working in removal defense. In September 2019, I will begin my position as an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Immigration Team at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) here in Austin, where I will pursue relief from removal for detained and formerly detained survivors of violence in Texas, particularly indigenous language speakers, through direct representation, resource development, and advocacy. My project has been generously sponsored by pro bono partners Dell Technologies and Baker Botts LLP.

 My coursework at UT in Latin American history, politics, and languages has greatly advanced my work in cases of asylum. Some of my relevant coursework includes: Introduction to Latin American Government and Politics; History of Contemporary Mexico; Society, Development and Citizenship in Mexico; History of US-Mexico Borderland; and language courses in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. During my time at UT, I had opportunities to live and travel in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Additionally, my undergraduate honors thesis, “What is a ‘Sanctuary City’?: The Future of Sanctuary in Austin, Texas” (awarded departmental prize for Best Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2015-2016) proved to be a great point of reference when the issue gained more media attention that year than anyone could have anticipated. Although I finished my B.A. in 2015, I continue to study at the Benson Latin American Collection, and decided to audit two classes in K’iche’, an indigenous language of Guatemala, in my third year of law school. My Spanish fluency has opened countless doors in my life and career so far, and I know this continued language study will do the same, as I make every effort I can to gain my clients’ trust. In other words, I cannot emphasize enough how my undergraduate education prepared me for the work I do today!"



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