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Mirella Ceja-Orozco
Mirella Ceja-Orozco is a recipient of Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Recent Alumni Award, recognizing graduates for significant contributions in their first decade of practice. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: From family translator to immigration advocate

Name: Mirella Ceja-Orozco

Title: Attorney, Ojala-Barbour Law Firm

Education: B.A., political science, Native American studies, University of California at Davis; J.D., Hamline University School of Law


As a youngster, Mirella Ceja-Orozco’s fluency in Spanish and English meant she often served as translator for family members who weren’t citizens or permanent residents. That early experience motivated her to pursue the immigrants’ rights practice, now at the Ojala Barbour Law Firm.

“From a very early age, it taught me to be a representative for others, especially in those vulnerable situations where they needed advocates,” Ceja-Orozco said.

Ceja-Orozco’s efforts earned her Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Recent Alumni Award, recognizing graduates for significant contributions to their community or the legal profession in their first decade of practice.

Ceja-Orozco worked in private practice and at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota before joining the Ojala-Barbour in St. Paul.

An adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, Ceja-Orozco recently filed her first petition seeking U.S. Supreme Court review of a clinic case.

As a board member of the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Ceja-Orozco handles immigration-based bond hearings.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Smile. When someone smiles it’s like an invitation to say hello. I feel like I’m always captivated by people’s desire to connect. These days you don’t see people smile because everyone’s wearing a mask. The best way to start a conversation now is to be like, “Hey, you!” But normally the best way to start a conversation with me is to smile.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: Isabel Wilkerson has a book called “Caste.” It’s such a timely book. I also am reading Michelle Obama’s book.

Q: What’s a pet peeve of yours?

A: When people don’t say thank you to waiters or people that they might think are beneath them. Being courteous is always really important.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: The joy that it brings me to keep families together.

Q: What do you like least about it?

A: The Trump administration. This administration has made my work so much more difficult. Some of it is in the news, the bigger stories. But it’s those day-to-day nuances and small changes in the law or regulations that have such a big and lasting impact.

Q: What do you like doing away from work?

A: I love soccer. I don’t play it, but I love soccer. I’m from a big soccer family. We are very much involved in coaching, refereeing, being a part of the nonprofit soccer world. This quarantine has taught me so much about myself. I’ve learned that I love crafts. I love painting. I’m making all of my own Christmas cards this year.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: I’m From Richmond, California, in the Bay area. It’s the home of Rosie the Riveter. The Rosie the Riveter monument is there because of the women’s movement during the war and women joining the workforce.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you most admire—and why?

A: RBG for sure is one of my inspirations. I don’t agree with every decision, but overall she really is an inspiration. And Thurgood Marshall. I aspire to be like them.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about your work as an attorney?

A: People are like, “You’re rich, you’re a lawyer.” That is the biggest false statement ever. I do the law that I’m passion about not the law that’s going to get me a Porsche. Passion not Porsche.

Q: What’s your favorite depiction of the law or the legal profession in popular culture?

A: I love “Legally Blonde.” For a hot second I was, like, I should make my resumes on pink scented paper. I love the portrayal of the Socratic method in that movie because not every class had it, but it’s an easy reference when people want horror stories about law school.

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