Standard bearer

‘First-generation’ U-M Law student honored for her pro bono work

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

University of Michigan Law School student Rana Ayazi is a first generation Iranian-American and a first-generation college graduate. Her parents fled to the United States in hopes for a place where their future children, especially a daughter, would have more opportunities.

“The foundation of how my life began has become a reminder every day of the opportunities given to me by my parents,” she says. “Every day I’m reminded of my privilege, and I let it guide my every decision.”    

Before college, Ayazi worked for a law firm in Southern California, focused on immigration law.

“A factor of the law that was and still is close to my heart,” she says. “For two years, I helped process heart-wrenching files. I witnessed tears of happiness and frenzied laughter through affirmations of safety, a right so often taken for granted.”

During undergrad at UCLA, Ayazi worked as a senior clerk at the UCLA School of Law, a paralegal at the Law Offices of John E. Carlson, and as an executive assistant for Family Health Alliance—a nonprofit organization geared towards human rights. She always knew that law school was the goal.

“I’ve always admired the power of being able to combine action with legal knowledge,” she says.   

The rising 3L student is thoroughly enjoying her experience at U-M Law School.

“It’s a joy to go to UpCo and be greeted by a plethora of friends. To be so stressed out by exams, but laughing so hard at the same time,” she says. “I don’t think you’ll find many other law schools where students in the same curved classes are sharing notes and encouraging one another.”   

After her 1L year, Ayazi interned at Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic. She worked directly with clients on urgent matters, including successfully drafting an Emergency Motion to Stay Deportation for a single mother who had been ordered removed and sought refuge from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a church.    

“My supervisors—Michael Wishnie, Ruben Loyo, and Marisol Orihuela—gave me the opportunity to take on challenges,” she says, “Under their expert guidance, I was able to learn and succeed.”

At Yale, she also worked with a woman and her minor child who were maltreated at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley.

At MLaw, inspired by her client, she proposed, organized, and led a LAW Breaks trip to that same detention facility for a weeklong period of legal aid and advocacy. The LAW Breaks trip worked with the Advocacy Project run by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and American Immigration Lawyers Association, collectively known as CARA. The law students worked with women one-on-one to prep them for their credible or reasonable fear interviews.    

“These women were some of the strongest and most determined people I’ve ever met,” Ayazi says. “Imagine being tortured or threatened death in the United States simply because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Then deciding to leave your entire family, take a dangerous journey to a foreign country, only to be detained as if you were a criminal.

“The women we spoke to went through trauma I couldn’t have imagined. We spoke to women with severe burns and deep scars. That week, we all cried for the women in the facility and for those still unable to flee.” 

Ayazi was inspired by the sole attorney who runs the organization and the countless volunteers.

“CARA shows what kindness can bring about in the world,” she says. “We prepped more than 250 individuals for their credible or reasonable fear interviews. There were zero negative fear findings. We wouldn’t have been able to help those people if it was not for CARA.”

After the LawBreaks trip, Ayazi worked with a friend at the University of California at Irvine School of Law to help create a similar program.

“I’m proud to state they were also able to volunteer with CARA at Dilley Detention Center in early May,” she says.    

Ayazi was honored in May with the 2L Student of the Year Excellence in Pro Bono Service Award.

“I’m truly humbled and surprised by the acknowledgment,” she says.

Ayazi had completed more than 200 hours of pro bono work before she completed her 2L year. Most of her pro bono work was done at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

She says, “My mentors at the organization—Ruby Robinson, Rebeca Ontiveros Chavez, and Darren Miller—each handle hundreds of immigration cases at any given time. They are experts within their field, and I’m so appreciative they used their limited time to teach me.”    

Ayazi also served as mentoring chair for MLaw’s First Generation Law Students organization.

“I know I’ve had my own difficulties feeling comfortable in the classroom, and I enjoy being able to serve as a resource for other students who may feel the same way I felt in the past.”   

Ayazi is originally from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California where her father owns a jewelry business, and her mother, previously a real estate agent, recently opened a sober living center for people trying to reintegrate back into society.

“My parents have always supported my dreams and encouraged my pursuits,” Ayazi says. “They have always put my and my brother’s needs before their own, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

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