Rocío Vazquez Alvarez started taking classes at the UNM School of Law last August, along with the rest of the first-year class, except her motives are a little different. As this year's member of Mexico's Foreign Ministry to take advantage of a 19-year agreement between the law school and the ministry, she has one year to learn as much as possible about the United States legal system.
For the fall semester, she signed up for torts, comparative historical and legal perspectives, criminal law and legal research, reasoning and writing. Already, she has gained information that will be useful when she returns to the ministry.
"At the consulate, our work is being a bridge, trying to explain how the U.S. legal system works to members of the Mexican population who get into any kind of problem," she says. "The UNM classes have helped me understand the principles of U.S. law much better and they are providing me with tools to better understand the strategy of a lawyer who might represent a client before us."
The program was established as a way to assist Mexican lawyers in their work at Mexican consulates across the U.S. They are often faced with issues concerning criminal law, criminal procedure, family law and immigration, and by studying U.S. legal principles at UNM, they gain a deeper understanding of those issues.
Vazquez is the 18th member of the ministry to go through the intensive program.
A native of Mexico City, she joined the Mexican Foreign Service in 1998 and has held posts in Mexico City and Philadelphia. Most recently, she was director for family law with the Mexican Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In that position, second in command at the Mexican Central Authority, she coordinated services provided to left-behind parents in abduction cases, debtors in family maintenance cases and potential adoptive parents.
Vazquez has had a long interest in immigration issues, and in one of her first positions with the ministry she was in charge of a program for border migrant children and a liaison for pro-immigrant and human rights organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border. In 1993, she participated in the "First Collective Voluntary Return of Guatemalan refugees to their homeland, an effort led by Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
"This program has been very enriching," she says. "The professors are very dynamic and I feel a real sense that they are interested in helping students through the learning process. The students are also well-prepared, and with a lot of professionals in the class, they bring a lot of their varied experiences to the classroom."