An Unlikely Path to Immigration Law
Though she initially resisted after her family’s experiences, Georgina Olazcon Mozo has found her calling as director of the Immigration Law Clinic — and as an empowering mentor.
Like many immigrant children, Georgina Olazcon Mozo came to Seattle with her parents through the recommendation of relatives who said the city had an abundance of jobs. She was 15 then, and — against cultural norms for women, who were expected to marry and become homemakers — her father emphasized education as a way for his daughter to achieve her full potential.
Olazcon Mozo’s father was deported to Mexico, but she carried out the dream he had for her. She was the first woman in her family to graduate from junior high school, setting an example for her younger sister to do the same. Now, Olazcon Mozo is a practicing lawyer, lecturer at UW Law and director of the Immigration Law Clinic.
We sat down with Olazcon Mozo, a graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School, to ask about her unlikely and inspiring path to a career in immigration law and her first year at UW Law empowering students as director of the Immigration Law Clinic.
UW Law: How are you enjoying your first year as lecturer and director of the Immigration Law Clinic?
Georgina Olazcon Mozo (GOM): It's been a whirlwind — I hadn’t realized everything that teaching involves, things such as creating community with the students, preparing for class, taking cases and dealing with client emergencies.
I am so impressed with the students here. The students are navigating this extremely competitive and challenging field and life, while not giving up on their vision. They have a vision that they want to follow and they're making that happen, even though sometimes they struggle. It’s not easy when some of them face health issues, personal hardships, or lose a loved one; but at the end of the day, they are very driven, very resilient people.
UW Law: How was your first experience on the Spring Break border trip, both for you and for the students?
GOM: We went to work with detained kids at the El Paso border. To a certain extent, I was used to that work because of the work I was doing in Colorado (with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network), but it's different when you do it in a border town. There are so many more complications. I don’t think the students had ever seen that environment before, so I supported them in navigating and trying to process everything that they saw.
UW Law: What inspired you most to work in and now teach immigration law?
GOM: Oddly enough, originally, I did not want to be an immigration attorney. I was very against it. It was difficult for me because of my own experiences with the system. Imagine one day coming home from school and having someone tell you that the people who raised you, your parents, were detained by immigration. My mom was detained for a month or two at the immigration detention center when it was here in King Street. She was able to be released, but my uncle and my aunt were deported. So then, as an immigrant child, I had to go through the system. I was like, “This is not for me. I'm very against what the government does and what they have done to my family.” I thought it would be really difficult for me to do it, that it would be too personal.
UW Law: How do you feel that in your work and teaching you're able to rise above those former fears?
GOM: The day I became a lawful permanent resident, I looked at my green card and felt free. I felt like the weight of the world fell off my shoulders. I also realized that a mere “piece of plastic” suddenly opened up many opportunities for me — opportunities that some of my peers, community members and even family members had no access to. I wanted to help others to achieve what I had achieved by mere serendipity.
The way that I think about it is, when clients walk into my office, I know what it's like. I know what is at stake. I know that it matters for clients when they meet an attorney that looks like them, that speaks their language. I didn't want to be an immigration attorney, but that's why I ended up doing it and I love it. I believe I am in the right field of law. I just resisted a little bit.
One day many years ago, I was representing a client and was sitting with her, her mom and her little sister in the immigration court waiting for their hearing. She was right about the same age as me when I came to the U.S., and she said, “Oh, so you're born here [in the U.S.]” I said, “No, I’m just like you. I came to the US undocumented and just like you, I had to go through the system.” She was really surprised. I think she was able to see herself in my story.
UW Law: Tell us more about that personal story.
GOM: I'm the first woman in my family to graduate from junior high. My mom just finished elementary school. I'm proud to say that after me, my sister and my [female] cousins graduated high school, and even went to college too. Because my mother had come to the United States to work to support my brother and me, she left us in Mexico under the care of my aunt and uncle. They became my parents. I was the only girl in the family for a long time. Most of my family believed that women shouldn't go to school. We have a specific role to be homemakers, but my dad always focused on my education. That was the only responsibility I had when living with them. He never said, “Oh, because you're a girl, you're not going to go to college, or you should not focus on school.” Instead, he planted the seed in me to focus on education.
In contrast, I remember that when I graduated high school, my aunt, uncle and my stepdad sat me down and said, “You should not go to school. You should not waste your time. You’re going to get married and it’s all going to be thrown away. You won’t use your education.” That's where my stubbornness comes in. I was like, “Just because you’re saying that — I will go to college.”
UW Law: When you look back at this past year, what are some of the things that you feel most proud of?
GOM: The most important part of my job is empowering students, helping students navigate the things that I had to navigate alone when I was in law school. For example, a 3L Latina student came to me because she’s interested in doing a fellowship to work in an immigration nonprofit. She was offered a job by a nonprofit she did not believe in, but she felt that she had to take that job and that it was her only option. I told her she didn’t have to take the job. In the immigration arena, in the non-profit world, burnout is a very real concern, and being certain about joining an organization that aligns with your values and belief system is important. I reminded her that she could decline the job and that when she is interviewing, she is also interviewing the employers. It is important for me to empower students to think differently and make decisions about their own careers. It’s not just about what students will do for the employers, but also why students should choose to work there.
UW Law: Is there a Hispanic/Latinx leader who has most inspired you in your life and/or career?
GOM: My dad is definitely the reason I pursued this career. If he had been among everyone who put limitations on what I was capable of, I would have graduated high school and been okay with that. He did a lot for me when I tried to figure out what I was doing. He didn’t say “You should be an attorney,” but he definitely was part of the motivation to keep going.
In terms of famous Latinx people, I admire Che Guevara because he was radicalized by witnessing how poor and Indigenous communities were displaced by capitalist exploitation. I also admire Comandanta Ramona, a feminist in the Zapatista revolutionary movement in Mexico, and the musical group Café Tacvba especially Ruben, the vocalist. They are advocates for immigrant rights and environmental justice.