EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The daughter of migrant farmworkers, Linda Corchado knows a thing or two about the needs of clients who walk through the doors at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center looking for help.

“I greatly value the work that they come to do and what it means to be an immigrant in this country,” said the new interim executive director at one of El Paso’s largest providers of legal advice and information for legal and undocumented immigrants.

Corchado this month took over leadership of Las Americas after Executive Director Linda Rivas resigned to spend time with her children following seven years in the frontlines of the immigration debate.

Corchado said she plans to pick up where Rivas left in terms of not only providing guidance to migrants trying to avoid deportation, file for legal residency and U.S. citizenship benefits, but also in publicly opposing federal government policies the organization believes harms migrants

“We’re devastated by the introduction of programs like Migrant Protection Protocols. It makes it difficult to see our clients and also witness them going through these processes,” she said. “Our staff has also gone through the trauma of seeing so many vulnerable people who deserve protection in this country instead of having to suffer time and time again.”

The MPP program sends non-Mexican asylum-seekers to Mexico to await the outcome of their court cases in the U.S. Organizations like Human Rights First have documented thousands of crimes against such migrants since 2018 and say they immediately become targets of criminals in Mexican border cities like Juarez, Tijuana and Reynosa.

Las Americas also opposes “fast-track” expulsions of newly arrived migrants under the Title 42 public health order and works toward the timely release of qualifying migrants at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The Trump administration implemented Title 42 in 2020 to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19.

“We firmly believe Title 42 is illegal. Hiding behind the CDC is insincere. We know what’s really going on here. We are truly devastated the Biden administration has not moved the needle when it comes to lifting Title 42 and really dealing with the humanitarian crisis,” Corchado said.

President Biden did away with MPP but promptly complied when a federal judge mandated the order be implemented when faced with a historic spike in authorized migration in 2021.

The closing of ports of entry to asylum-seekers has also irked migrant organizations like Las Americas. The groups say it forces families fleeing crime, poverty and persecution in their home countries to place their lives in the hands of smugglers or otherwise attempt illegal crossings through remote or dangerous areas.

A front-side look at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso. (Border Report photo)

While immigrant advocacy groups expressed great hope after Biden was elected, his mixed and evolving messages on immigration confound them.

“The Biden administration gives too much deference to (immigration agencies) when it comes to their reports and what the needs and what the crisis are when it comes to processing migrants,” Corchado said.

A history of community advocacy

Corchado is a graduate of Swarthmore College, a private school in Pennsylvania, and pursued business administration studies from the University of Texas at El Paso. Her law degree comes from Cardozo School of Law in New York City, and she interned for three years at law firms, the legal departments of nonprofits and the El Paso County Attorney’s Office.

She’s also done social activism on human rights and children’s education issues and was a policy analyst for then-candidate for U.S. Congress Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat.

Her first brush with Las Americas came in 2014 as a staff attorney. She went into private practice eight months later but returned in 2018 when migration to the U.S. spiked and she heard of human tragedies such as the separation of families at the border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

“When they started separating families, I realized we needed to do a lot more to restore the dignity of migrants who come to our country,” she said. “One of the first steps I took (at Las Americas) was to make sure our team is well-equipped to rise to the occasion and better serve El Pasoans living here in immigrant communities and making sure their families remain together.”

The work of Las Americas includes outreach to Mexico – to where asylum-seekers are returned – and New Mexico, where ICE runs migrant detention centers.

“It’s been unclear what the Biden administration believes is a priority for detention. They have changed that a lot. We are still detaining migrants during this pandemic,” Corchado said. “We represent migrants in rural New Mexico facilities who are HIV-positive, have asthma or are (transgender). It is not safe for them to be detained and we will continue to hold ICE accountable.”

Former Las Americas executive director Rivas says she’s confident Corchado’s experience and personal history will place her in a “position of strength to immediately […] inspire confidence in the public.”

Rivas said the organization has built up its internal structure over the years to continue giving hope to the migrants that come calling for help.