From the Military to Law School: Meet UC Hastings 1L Student Jose Cajero

Latino law student wearing suit and tie
UC Hastings student Jose Cajero, JD ’25, served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps before entering law school this year.

Growing up in a small Texas town with immigrant parents who never made it past the sixth grade, Jose Cajero, 30, overcame a number of obstacles before joining UC Hastings this fall as a 1L student.

He previously spent six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he operated air-support radar systems in Afghanistan and protected U.S. diplomats at foreign embassies on three different continents. While serving in Afghanistan, Cajero recalled, a staff sergeant ridiculed him for spending too much time studying and laughed mockingly at his goal of becoming a lawyer. “That day when he bashed me, it ignited a passion in me,” Cajero said. “I knew I must prove him wrong.”

Cajero said attending law school once felt like a pipe dream. But he believes the dream became a reality through perseverance, hard work, and determination. He said, “It makes my heart swell with pride that I get to break those barriers down for the people after me and that I can make something that seems impossible a reality and within grasp.”

He said he chose UC Hastings in part because of its commitment to diversifying the legal field. He is a member of the school’s First Generation Program and Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP) – both programs that support law students who come from diverse backgrounds and who have faced barriers to achieving higher education.

Cajero played high school football before enlisting in the Marines in 2009. He entered the military at a time when service members were forbidden from being openly gay under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He said he was forced to hide his identity as a queer man and bite his tongue when he heard fellow Marines make bigoted jokes.

After serving three years as a radar technician, including a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, Cajero spent the next three years in a special unit protecting diplomats and classified materials at U.S. embassies in Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, and Vietnam. He also suffered injuries from long-term exposure to radiation from radar equipment.

As a boy in Mineral Wells, Texas, Cajero witnessed his pregnant mother crying as she struggled to crawl into an attic to hide from immigration enforcement agents, fearing they might forcibly send her and her family back to Mexico. Cajero said those experiences have inspired him to learn more about civil rights and immigration law so he can support others, “If I can remove that fear of being separated, of someone’s world being destroyed, of being kicked back to another country, that would be a rewarding and gratifying existence.”

The 1L student said he wants to use his law degree to help those least capable of defending themselves, “I want to be a protector and a defender. It’s always been in my nature.”