Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center Executive Director Linda Rivas will leave her post after seven years, the El Paso nonprofit announced Friday.

Linda Corchado, Las Americas’ director of legal services, will step in as interim executive director on Feb. 1 while the organization conducts a national search for a new leader.

Rivas cited a recent death in the family among her reasons for making a career change.

“I want to refocus on my professional and personal development and I want Las Americas to be able to thrive,” she said. “I just felt it was a really good time for both myself and Las Americas to endure this level of change.”

Rivas, who joined Las Americas as a managing attorney in 2014 and became executive director in 2016, led the organization during a tumultuous period in U.S. immigration policy.

The small nonprofit gained a national spotlight by helping break the story of the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families. Las Americas’ client Jocelyn, a Brazilian asylum seeker who had been separated from her young son, was a plaintiff in an ultimately successful lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that ended the zero tolerance policy in 2018.

“In October 2017, when our volunteers were discovering that (family) separation was occurring, no one believed us,” Rivas said. “When the public became aware that it was real and then the story broke … it was very redeeming because I think up until that time what we were doing was very lonely (and) very siloed.”

Support snowballed following the increased national attention, translating into more funding and more attorneys, Rivas recalled.

Linda Rivas spoke in 2019 with a Honduran family that was removed from the Migrant Protection Protocols program with her help. The 4-year-old girl had a neurological condition that left her nonverbal and unable to walk. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

Rivas was also a prominent voice against the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as “remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to await their U.S. immigration court dates in Mexico. Her work gained national attention again when she was able to get dozens of vulnerable migrants taken out of the program. Unlike family separation, MPP has continued under the Biden administration.

Rivas said she hopes her departure doesn’t cause doubt or concern in the organization’s supporters.

“What’s really important for me is for supporters to read this and feel really confident in the direction,” Rivas said. She expressed confidence in Corchado taking the helm, saying the board had an “easy decision.” 

Linda Corchado

Corchado will focus her efforts on continuing to build the organization’s office in Juárez. 

“(A Mexico office) positions us strategically to be proactive about border policy and help vulnerable migrants who have been abandoned and neglected by our policies, which are not in accordance with the urgent humanitarian needs migrants face,” she said in an email.

Corchado also plans to continue developing Las Americas’ program that helps detained migrants appeal their cases, improving strategies for vulnerable people to access the court system.

Rivas described the executive director role as one that is incredibly time-consuming. But, she said, “it’s worth it. Believe me, it’s worth it.”

Cover photo: Attorney Linda Rivas stands outside the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Rivas is resigning after more than seven years of service as an immigration attorney and executive director of the non-profit organization. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.