Marine Veteran and 2L Looks Forward to Second Career in Immigration Law

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2L John Vazquez

2L John Vazquez

A 25-year stint in the U.S. Marines gave 2L John Vazquez something not easily replicated in civilian life: an opportunity to lead a group of men in combat. But what the son of a career Navy man really, really loved the most about the service was his fellow Marines.

Vazquez has found that same love of mission and camaraderie at Miami Law, first through his early meetings with retired Army Colonel Alice Kerr, a one-woman veteran recruitment secret weapon.

"Well, I had to listen to Alice; she outranks me," the 50-year-old father of two says. Vazquez met with Kerr when he was visiting Miami with family and, after also being accepted at St. Thomas and the University of Richmond, Kerr lured Vazquez to Miami Law.

(Kerr has her own unique origin story to Miami Law: Dean Patricia White urged Kerr to apply during a Central UM meeting about an IT program. She should be called the accidental student.)

"The first year was tough," he says. "Two guys, Jordan Luczaj and Sam Ludington, carried me through last year. They are just phenomenal guys. They dragged me along, shouting encouragement all the way."

Vazquez brings a wealth of history and experience to the law school, as a Marine Lt. Colonel, as a son of Cuban immigrant parents, as a second-generation American military, as well as a convocation of legal eagles. His grandfather was a judge in Cuba, an uncle a lawyer there, and he has a cousin who is a lawyer in Connecticut.

Vazquez and his twin brother had a typical military upbringing, the family following his father from base to base around the world. By the time Vazquez started high school, his father had retired, and the family settled in Hampton Roads, Virginia, a Navy town with an ever-changing population. He wrestled competitively and winningly in high school and college at Virginia Military Institute, where his signature move was the "Fireman Carry." It was there the Marine Corps spotted and recruited him.

He spent his early years, after officer candidate school, in deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, building a family in-between. (His older daughter, Isela, recently joined the Army.) In 2012, he began working as a Foreign Area Officer and Operations Officer in Central and South America, building security force training programs with partner nation militaries in Latin American.

"People don't realize that El Salvador sent infantry troops to Iraq and Afghanistan every year," he said. "When they send a unit over, and they are tasked with guarding a base or running patrols, that's one less unit that we have to send.

"They are every bit as hardworking, tough, and arrogant, and they love their country, just like we do. But they don't have a lot of stuff, a lot of resources," he says. "I got an appreciation for what they go through."

Through that experience and watching the Spanish-speaking immigrants in his hometown struggle with a lack of access to immigration lawyers, he started formulating his life-after plan starting with law school, with the full backing of his wife, Anna, and their daughters.

"They told me that if I didn't take this opportunity," he says, "I would always regret it.”

And so, Miami Law's strong commitment to immigration law landed in the center of the target. (Alice Kerr may well have weighted the arrow.)

With his 1L year tucked safely behind him, Vazquez is loading up on classes, hoping to graduate in December 2020, a semester before his younger daughter, Sofia, finishes high school. Between classes and studies, with scant time left for sleeping, Vazquez can be found in the Immigration Clinic honing the skills for his second act.

After graduation, he plans to back to Virginia Beach, join his family, and hang out a shingle for his immigration practice.

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