Jose “Chito” Vela III is an immigration attorney, workers’ rights advocate and City of Austin planning commissioner. Chito is married to Fabiola Flores, an attorney in the Austin office of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. A former president of the Blanton Elementary PTA, Chito has two children who attend AISD schools: Josue, age 12, and Perla, age 10. A longtime advocate for working families in Austin, Vela is the former board chair of the nonprofit Workers Defense Project and is a partner in Walker Gates Vela PLLC, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants. Vela also currently serves on the City of Austin Planning Commission, where he advocates for solutions to the Austin area’s affordability crisis that create opportunities for people of all income levels to find housing. Prior to beginning his own law practice, Vela served as General Counsel for a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives and was an Assistant Attorney General in the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Chito grew up in Laredo, Texas, the son of Jose “Chito” Vela, Jr. and Patricia Vela. Chito’s father was an attorney in private practice, a Justice of the Peace, and a County Commissioner in Webb County. Chito’s mother is a retired educator who worked for 35 years as a teacher and librarian. Both of his parents were active in Chicano politics.
Chito’s first job was being a clerk at his father’s law office, where he developed a strong interest in law and politics. He worked odd jobs throughout high school and college, including selling concessions at Disch-Falk Field during Longhorn baseball games and lifeguarding at Barton Springs Pool. In 1998, Chito was city manager for the City of El Cenizo, an incorporated colonia south of Laredo. His first job after graduating from the LBJ School was as coordinator of the City of Laredo Nonprofit Management and Volunteer Center, where he provided management and research support to area nonprofits. After law school, Chito worked as an Assistant Attorney General in the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where he reviewed requests from government agencies all across the state to withhold information from the public. His deep commitment to transparency and open government comes from what he saw and learned at this job. In 2007, Chito was hired as General Counsel for State Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr., who represented Corpus Christi. He worked for State Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr. until 2010, providing legal and policy advice to the representative and his staff. It was here where Chito learned how the Texas House of Representatives functions and what the policy issues facing the State of Texas are. This knowledge and experience will allow Chito to immediately get to work when elected and fight for the people in this East Austin district. In 2011, Chito opened his own law office, focusing on criminal defense and immigration. Chito is now a partner in Walker Gates Vela PLLC, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants and their families. Being a small business owner and an employer has shown him both the challenges and opportunities that small business in Texas face.
Chito has always felt a strong responsibility to serve his community. He grew up attending Catholic church in Laredo and was greatly influenced as a child by the church’s social justice teachings. He spent many afternoons playing basketball and swimming at the Boys and Girls Club, where he learned the value of recreational and educational opportunities for our youth. Chito was politically active while at the University of Texas, taking part in debates, protests and rallies.
Chito was president of the Blanton Elementary PTA from 2011 to 2013 and continues to be an active volunteer with the school. He was also a volunteer basketball coach at the East Communities YMCA from 2011 to 2013. More recently, Chito volunteers and is a mentor for Youth Rise Texas, an organization dedicated to developing the leadership of youth who are directly impacted by parental incarceration, immigrant detention, and deportation. Chito also volunteers for the Joyce Willet School of Dance and Body Talk - their children’s dance company - where his daughter is one of the dancers.
Chito believes that all attorneys have an obligation to give back to their community and work for justice. Chito has taken pro-bono cases from Volunteer Legal Services of Austin and from Raices, an organization dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants. Chito is also a member of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Chito was a board member for Workers Defense Project (WDP) from 2011 through 2015, becoming chair of the board of directors in 2015. Working with the immigrant members of WDP and with the talented and dedicated staff and volunteers was a great experience. WDP demonstrates the power that people can have when they organize and work strategically toward achieving their goals. WDP has had a profound impact on the lives of immigrants and construction workers in Austin, Dallas and throughout Texas.
In 2015, Chito was appointed by Councilmember Greg Casar to the City of Austin Planning Commission, where he has fought to add badly needed housing and improve the city’s transportation infrastructure.
Chito graduated from United High School in 1992 and enrolled at The University of Texas that fall. He graduated in December 1995 with a major in History and a minor in Mexican American Studies. In 1997, he enrolled at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas, graduating in 1999. In 2002, he enrolled at The University of Texas School of Law, graduating in December 2004.