EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – One of El Paso’s better-known migrant advocates is taking a step back after seven years on the front lines of the immigration debate.

Linda Rivas is resigning as executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center so she can spend more time with her family. Lead attorney Linda Corchado has been named interim executive director.

Las Americas last year assisted a record 6,500 migrants with asylum, deportation, legal residency, or citizenship cases. It also joined advocacy groups nationwide in denouncing the Biden administration’s continuation of Trump-era policies. Those included making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for the outcome of their claims (the Migrant Protection Protocols program) and the summary deportation of single adults and some families (the Title 42 public health order).

“I have dedicated the past seven years to this organization and to the service of the people I’ve had the honor to represent, but my kids – I have a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old – and I just need a little bit of time,” Rivas said. “Las Americas is such an incredible endeavor … it means hope to so many on both sides of the border so that I did recognize and discerned it was time for new leadership.”

Corchado credits Rivas with helping staff grow professionally and preparing them to speak out against immigration policies that are hurtful to immigrants or deny them due process and basic human rights. Handover aside, Las Americas will continue passionately defending the rights of immigrants in the borderlands, Corchado said.

Fighting hardline immigration policies

Rivas says the biggest change she’s seen in the past seven years when it comes to U.S. immigration policy is the obstacles now placed on asylum-seekers fleeing violence or persecution in their countries.

“Asylum back then and now looks completely different,” the immigration attorney said. Mexican border cities like Juarez – which recorded more than 5,000 homicides in the past three years – have become U.S. surrogates where first Trump and now President Biden resorted to holding asylum-seekers “hostage,” she said.

The Trump administration sent almost 70,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico starting in 2019 rather than processing them in the United States. Only a fraction was able to reenter the country when the Biden administration did away with MPP in early 2021, but then restored the program under a court order late in the year.

“For the first time, we see a completely closed port of entry. When I first started practicing here, we did not have (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) agents in the middle of the bridge asking people for status. There was still the ability – and I got to represent so many incredible people – that walked up to the port of entry and asked for asylum.”

This virtual wall that now extends well into Mexico was preceded by hardline policies allegedly aimed at discouraging migration through family separation, locking up apprehended migrants in very cold rooms and keeping children in detention centers beyond the terms of the Flores Agreement. Despite such deterrents, the migrants kept coming back.

“Sometimes when we speak about people and speak about their vulnerabilities, we can’t forget how strong these people are and brave and courageous and knowing that if Americans were confronted with the same harms, risks and challenges they would do the same thing to save the lives of their children and their own lives,” Rivas said.

The advocates also proved resilient.

“The demand for our service is always growing and evolving […] having our team members including myself crossing the border sometimes every day providing legal education so that people can stand a chance for success in this country,” Rivas said.

Immigration experts and think-tanks say those immigrants represented by lawyers or who receive advice from Immigration Board-certified organizations substantially increase their odds of winning a case. That includes those who’re sitting at detention centers facing deportation.

“There’s also the person who’s sitting in the detention center perhaps forgotten; the team will go in there and restore their dignity and tell them they’re worth letting the judge know their story and potentially being released,” Rivas said. “It is a huge priority for us to serve those who often are forgotten.”