The former ACLU attorney discusses her inspiration for fighting for her community and continuing her family's legacy of public service with People Chica.
Rochelle Garza
Credit: Courtesy of Rochelle Garza

In 2017, Rochelle Garza made history when she took on the United States Supreme Court, under the Trump administration, when they tried to prevent an undocumented immigrant teenager from exercising her right to choose.

The former ACLU attorney's win resulted in the "Garza Notice," which requires the federal government to notify undocumented immigrant teenagers who are detained across the country of their right to abortion without retaliation and obstruction.

Now, Garza is poised to make history again in November as she runs for the position of Texas Attorney General, where she would be the first Latina to hold the title.

In an exclusive interview with People Chica, the Texan shared her inspiration for fighting for her community, extending her family's legacy of public service and continuing to champion reproductive justice and health care rights for all.

Rochelle Garza
Credit: Courtesy of Rochelle Garza

What drove you to want to work as an attorney, especially coming from a place like the Rio Grande Valley?

I'm from the Rio Grande Valley, which is in Southern Texas, right on the border with Mexico. It's the borderlands [and] I'm a fifth generation Texan from this region. My family went back and forth [along] that border for generations, my dad actually was a farmer in the region, and he was one of 13 kids. My mom and dad were both public school teachers, and then later, my dad ended up going to law school and became a judge in the Valley. He was a judge down here for 21 years, essentially from the time I was born, up until I was in college.

I think that background of seeing him [and my mom being] very caring and connected with the community was inspiring to me. My dad always made it very clear that not everyone's born with the same opportunities and that we have to be aware of that. I also grew up with a sibling with disabilities, my oldest brother experienced a traumatic brain injury during childbirth, and he required a lot of care and a lot of advocacy. So, I saw my parents do a lot of that advocacy on many different fronts, whether it was fighting for insurance to get coverage for his wheelchair or my mom testifying against a bad bill. I really saw what it took to fight for your family and why the health of my family depended on all of us being okay.

I became a lawyer because I really look at being an attorney—and specifically focusing on civil rights and fighting for immigrants and for families and children—uplifts everyone. I wanted to become a lawyer to really ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity and a fair chance. Most of my practice has been in the valley, but I have obviously worked in different parts [as] Texas impacts things on a national level.

What would it mean for you to be elected as the first Latina Attorney General in a state like Texas?

I'm actually expecting my first child, a little girl. I'm motivated to run for it for multiple reasons. One, because I've really been fighting for civil rights for so long, for so many people, and I also think it's really important to have real representation and having Latinas run for office. Latino representation in the state of Texas is something that we really need. We're almost 40% of the population of the state of Texas, so it's time that our representatives reflect our communities because we keep getting laws that are harmful to women, to Latino communities, black and brown communities, because we don't have the representation that understands what we're going through. That's what I want to bring to this race and that's what I want to bring to the position and fighting for Texans.

What would you say you hope to teach other Latinas that are looking to you as an example and want to run for a career in public policy, or they want to help out their communities?

You're going to have a lot of challenges. It's really hard. You know, when I graduated from law school, I was one of 14,000 Latinas that graduated from law school out of over a million people that graduated from law school across the country—a very small population. But you know, you may be the first, but you're not going to be the last. I think it's really important that the more space that you make for yourself and that you take, the more that you're going to give others. That's important to keep in mind, that we deserve to have a seat at the table, and we should take we should take that seat when it's available to us.

You fought one of the most notorious reproductive justice cases in the nation during the Trump administration, which eventually resulted in the Garza Notice. Can share more on that and how you'll continue fighting these kinds of cases as they come up?

That was an unexpected case that resulted in something really powerful. I was the guardian for a young woman, Jane Doe, who was an immigrant teen in custody here in South Texas. She was denied access to abortion care by the Trump administration—this was someone who didn't know this country, but she knew what she wanted for her life, and she recognized that this was the right decision for her given all of her life circumstances.

Fighting for her, and fighting for so many others like her, meant the world to me because she was able to make the decision, so she may get the health care she needed, and then ensure that other people didn't go through the same thing that she did. It's about self-determination and being able to determine your own course in life and to decide, "This is the kind of life I want to have." It was a really important case to make sure that we ensured that her rights were protected and [be] able to do it across the country.

Right now, choice is at issue in the state of Texas, and it is really difficult with the six-week ban where people are not allowed access to reproductive health care. In my own situation, as someone who is pregnant, when the ban went into effect, I was nine weeks pregnant, and I was worried about getting access to health care. People need to recognize that this is a health care issue. Ultimately, at the end of the day, and if God forbid, somebody says the pregnancy is not viable, you're literally cutting off someone's ability to make an informed decision about their own medical needs. It's important that we have someone in this office, particularly in the Attorney General's Office, that's going to recognize that and to fight for it.

Rochelle Garza
Credit: Courtesy of Rochelle Garza

If you do become Attorney General, what are some organizations that you hope to partner with that can help you support these communities across Texas, but also in the Rio Grande Valley?

The thing about the border is that these are communities that are very tight-knit. They really care about each other. You've got people that speak English and Spanish and are bicultural, and during the Trump administration we saw all these people come together. I mean, retired teachers and neighbors that organized and were looking out for newcomers [and] immigrants that were coming into the country or looking out for immigrants that had been separated from their families during [the] zero tolerance and the Family Separation Policy under Trump.

I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for that, for the region and for the people that stepped up and showed so much care towards their fellow human being. I hope in this position—the Attorney General is a state position and immigration is a federal issue—to be an ally and to be a supporter of border communities and of every Texan. Immigration isn't something that just impacts border communities, it impacts the entire state and impacts the entire country. I want to see myself as an ally to all these folks.

What's the best advice that you've gotten from someone in your family recently regarding your new adventure?

I look at the women in my family, and I'm so blessed to come from them. My dad's mom was one of 13 kids, and my dad was actually delivered at home by my great-grandmother. Then, I think about my own mother, who is just absolutely fierce and has fought for her children and for her family and especially my brother, Robbie, and in getting health care for him. A lot of times doctors didn't want to give him services because he was a person with disabilities. She told me stories about picking him up and taking him out of the doctor's office and being like, "I'm going to take him somewhere where he's going to get the care he needs."

I think that we need to recognize all of the women that have come before us, all the Latinas and the fight, because it is very unique to be Latina in the United States because that fight is very different too. There are so many other issues that we have to face [and] so many other barriers that we have to face as Latinos. I'm impressed by them. My grandmother always told me, "Just study, don't get married." I waited for a long time to finally get married, but I studied really hard. And my mom was always like, "Take care of yourself, but also take care of others around you." That's exactly what I've done.