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Andrea Meza, 3L

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Biggest Achievement of The Year

In the past year, my biggest achievement occurred through my role as a student attorney in the immigration clinic. I was able to secure the release of a mother and her six year old son from immigration detention. The family came to the United States fleeing gang violence and had been imprisoned for more than three months. I argued for their release before a judge in immigration court and helped arrange for payment of their bond. After the bond was paid, I drove to the detention center in Karnes City, Texas to pick up my client and her son and bring them to Austin. The family was so grateful for my assistance in securing their freedom, and the positive change in my client's demeanor was striking. I was able to accomplish this with the superb training and guidance I received in the immigration clinic and through a network of attorneys and members of the community serving the population of families detained in Karnes City, Texas. This experience reminded me of the value my legal education has to make substantial change in the lives of others.

The Only Law School for Me

I have known I wanted to attend The University of Texas School of Law since I was in high school. I am from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so after I decided I wanted to become an attorney and hoped to settle in Texas, I knew I wanted to attend the state’s most reputable law school. My decision was reinforced when I was researching the school during my application process. I plan to practice immigration law, thus when I learned about the school’s clinical opportunities and the impressive work of the Immigration Clinic, I knew I had made the right choice. 

Why Immigration Law?

My great-grandparents emigrated from Mexico, and I’ve always loved learning about history and different cultures. The fact that America is a country founded by immigrants has led to my intrigue with the phenomenon of immigration, even before I became aware of its legal implications. My interest in modern day immigration piqued when I moved to Phoenix for my undergraduate studies. Many of my friends were children of immigrants or had immigrated when they were very young. Some of them were undocumented, and it seemed so unjust that we were all high achievers and had so much in common, yet the fact that they were born on the other side of the border created a host of problems for them that I did not have to face. I hope to use my legal education to assist those caught in the web of our convoluted immigration laws and policy today.

Passion for Pro Bono

I remember that my grandmother, despite her very humble means, opened her door to everyone and provided any help she could offer, no matter how small. Her example of generosity and the message of social justice I learned from my parents instilled in me the notion that part of the human experience is helping others. During my undergraduate studies I found like-minded people through community service student organizations, and in doing volunteer work with these individuals my passion for service flourished. I was excited to learn that UT Law offers numerous opportunities for students to participate in pro bono projects. Through pro bono projects such as volunteering at Catholic Charities and at the Immigration Clinic's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) workshops, I’ve been able to continue practicing immigration legal work to maintain and augment my knowledge in the field. Pro bono work also helps me stay grounded despite the rigors of law school. Working with clients who are immensely grateful for the help you provide them in their dire situations makes me appreciate so much in my life. I’m then inspired to continue tackling my studies so that I can earn my J.D. in order to continue giving back as an attorney. 

Finding Inspiration at Orientation

The book discussion during Orientation has had a large impact on my life as a law student because it set the tone for my path in public interest work. I chose to participate in the discussion of the book "Tulia," led by Professors Mary Crouter and Tina Fernandez. "Tulia" is the true story of a small town in the Texas Panhandle that was the seat of a large criminal justice and race controversy that began in 1999. Reading this book and the discussion at orientation made me aware of the potential abuse of the justice system when there is no oversight or insufficient resources for advocacy. America prides itself on the "innocent until proven guilty" presumption, yet societal factors such as level of education, poverty and institutionalized racism or sexism can effectively negate that protection. However, lawyers are in a unique position to be able to help those failed by the legal system in that last phase before they’re potentially stripped of their liberties. This knowledge inspires me to take advantage of as many opportunities that UT Law offers for practical advocacy experience as possible.

An Eye-opening Experience

I have participated in many DACA Clinics, where law student volunteers assist undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children apply for protection from deportation under the DACA program. One of my most memorable experiences occurred at a DACA clinic in the Rio Grande Valley that was part of UT Law's Pro Bono in January trip. I was assisting an 18-year-old girl whose only caregiver was the social worker who had brought her to the clinic. At the DACA clinics, we also screen for other forms of immigration relief, especially since DACA does not provide a path to citizenship or even legal permanent residency. As I learned more about this young girl’s case, I found out that her mother had been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, her father was never in her life and her only brother was in prison. This young woman was still in high school when she was thrust into the world on her own, and faced homelessness until her social worker took her in. She was also a victim of abuse, and because of that, learned at the DACA clinic that she might have an avenue to legal permanent residency. For her, that news was life changing. Since there is a checkpoint a few miles north in every direction, and Mexico is to the south, undocumented individuals essentially become trapped in the Rio Grande Valley. The prospect of gaining legal status as a result of her struggles gave this young girl hope that she would be free to pursue her goal of obtaining higher education and a life beyond the Valley.

collage of photos with Andrea

Quick facts:

Andrea Meza
Expected graduation:
Arlington, Texas
Undergrad university and majors:
Arizona State University; anthropology (minor in Spanish)

Organizations and internships:

Notable job/internship:
Law clerk, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the District 18 Office of Chief Counsel, summer 2012
UT Law organizations:
Chicano/Hispanic Law Students Association, President
Texas Law Fellowships, Co-President
Pro Bono Scholar


Favorite study spot:
I actually study best at home away from the distractions of my fellow law students. I also like the fact that at home I can be with my dog, Pepita.
Favorite place to eat near campus:
My favorite place to eat near campus is Taco Joint. Austin is famous for it's unique affection for breakfast tacos, and Taco Joint has the best quality – especially the tortillas. An added bonus is that it's walking distance from the law school.
Favorite thing about Austin:
My favorite thing about Austin is how easy it is to enjoy the outdoors. I don’t consider myself a particularly “outdoorsy” person, but kayaking, trails and swimming holes abound here and I’ve found an appreciation for their accessibility.
Favorite class:
So far, my favorite class is Criminal Procedure: Investigation with Professor Dix. I have been a Law & Order junkie for years, and now I analyze the show's detective investigations with a new rigor.


Tips for balancing school and life:
My advice for balancing school and life is to set a routine, use small periods of time to be productive and make "To-Do" lists. For example, I ride the UT bus to school, so I review my reading during my commute or plan my list of tasks for the day. I also try to follow a routine of coming home in the early evening on my shorter class days so I can make sure to take care of my household responsibilities and set aside some time to do school work away from the ever-present law school setting.
Tips for succeeding in law school:
At orientation, Professor Sokolow gave an excellent piece of advice; he said to make sure law school doesn't keep you from being yourself. I believe a large part of doing well in law school includes making sure you continue to do things that keep you balanced and make you happy, both on a personal and professional level. Professionally, it's also important to stay true to your interests. At times the feeling that everyone is following the same career path can be overwhelming, but there are so many student groups and faculty at UT who can help you explore your passions – there is no reason to feel pressured into a mold. Knowing you are working toward a fulfilling and personally enriching career will help make the day-to-day pressures and challenges of law school more exciting and worthwhile.
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