Student Spotlight

Asatiani ’23: Passion for Helping Immigrants with Personal Experience and Formal Education

Medea Asatiani ’23

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Medea Asatiani ’23 has a passion for telling others’ stories.

Hers is worth telling.

Asatiani immigrated to the United States from Georgia when she was a teenager with her grandfather. With political and economic turmoil brewing in Georgia and increased risk for young women being kidnapped and forced to marry, her family decided to start the process to get her to the United States. Asatiani headed to Philadelphia to join her grandmother.

“My grandmother was making just enough to support herself as a professor of Russian language and literature in Georgia. She didn’t make enough to support her grandkids too though, so she migrated to the United states.  A year later as the oldest grandchild, I came over and found work,” she said.

Asatiani and her grandmother found jobs babysitting, taking care of senior citizens, and washing dishes at a pizzeria. Whatever they could find, she said. They moved around a lot as they found work. They survived and sent extra money to relatives in Georgia to help them endure the country's conditions.

During junior year of high school, she moved to Toms River, New Jersey to live with an American family.

“They became my family, they were so wonderfully kind and I probably would not have been able to stay in America without them,” she said.

Her undergraduate years were difficult. After transferring from Temple University to Hunter College to save money, she dropped out due to financial concerns and needs for her parents and extended family back in Georgia. Her paternal grandfather died, then her uncle, then maternal grandfather, then her father and Asatiani and her grandmother had to take on as much work as they could to help the family pay debts.

A few years later, she completed her degree at Hunter College in Religious Studies and English Literature. As an undergraduate, she dabbled in documentary film making and fell in love with storytelling. One of her professors noticed her skills and encouraged her to bring her ideas to life.

On her first trip back to Georgia after 13 years, she brought her young daughter to visit family and make her first film. The focus was on the historical journey of a Georgian woman and her place in modern day Georgia.

“We were filming and there was something about it that I cannot explain. It's a very cathartic kind of experience,” she said. “It was completely accidental. I was very blessed to have opportunity and resources to make the film I definitely plan to do that, especially after law school. I can't see myself not writing or not like doing something creative because it's a big part of who I am.”

But there was one experience that steered Asatiani toward Albany instead of Los Angeles. Among her many pre-law school jobs she picked some experience with a part-time position in an immigration attorney’s office. She worked as translator and legal assistant. She wanted to do more. To help people fully. So, she decided law school would create opportunities for her to help others and support her daughter.

Now, she’s helping people in similar situations navigate the immigration process. She hopes her Albany Law School education can help immigrants understand the process through translating language and the law. She has already been honored by the Capital District Women’s Bar Association with the Exemplary Community Service Award for advocating for women seeking asylum in the United States.

“A big piece of filling out immigration applications is knowing the English language. So, I worked to translate for them and help them communicate with attorneys,” she said. “It felt like we were making impact in people's life. I can't compare any feeling to that. This person is safe. This person can remain in this country. They're legally in this country. They can study, they can build their life, and they never have to worry about deportation,” she said.

She is also a Sponsler Fellow for Federal Civil Procedure, Professor Nina Farnia, Teaching Assistant for Professor Victoria Esposito, Introduction to Lawyering I, Research assistant for Professor Farnia, an Admissions Student Ambassador, and a co-president of the Immigration Law Pro Bono Society. She is also involved in the Anthony V. Cardona '70 Moot Court Program.

Even with all of that, she was reticent at the start of her law school career.

In one of her first classes with Distinguished Professor of Law Patricia Reyhan, she was telling a friend how she was nervous to speak up in class.

“No one was making me feel that way, but I felt that way because I didn’t know a lot about law school overall,” she said. “But Professor Reyhan overheard us and encouraged me to speak up, she said my assignments were all well done and she asked how I was adjusting. It meant a lot, I saw that there was a consistent support system here. That has everything to do with the students and faculty.”

After law school she plans to work at Couch White and continue to help out in immigration cases pro bono.

Medea Asatiani