Marisa Limón Garza has a vision for the future of the Las Americas Immigration Advocacy Center, the El Paso nonprofit celebrating its 35th year of protecting the rights of migrants.

“I want to not only address immigrant issues as they arise with new politicians and changing legislation, but to really focus on initiatives that serve those already in the community,” said Limón Garza, who was recently hired as the organization’s executive director by its board of directors.

Las Americas, at 1500 E. Yandell Drive, provides legal services to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, victims of crime and families seeking reunification.

Limón Garza said while those services will continue, she also plans to implement initiatives such as helping legal permanent residents become citizens and helping protect undocumented young people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

She also plans to strengthen the organization’s ties to local governments to better respond to migrants’ needs and streamline its outreach and fundraising efforts to maintain its financial solvency long term.

“The depth of understanding and commitment and fire in her about the border community is very exciting to us,” said Nicolas Palazzo, a senior attorney and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society border fellow at the organization. “She gets it.”

Limón Garza will take the helm of Las Americas on Sept. 1. She replaces Linda Rivas, who left the organization in January after seven years. 

“What this organization has done the last 35 years gives me a place to play a key role for its next 35 years,” Limón Garza said.

The 45-year-old native El Pasoan most recently served as senior director for advocacy and programming at Hope Border Institute, a social justice nonprofit based in the borderland.

A graduate of Eastwood High School, she earned a master’s in education and bachelor’s in English and Spanish literature from the University of Notre Dame. She also holds a certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University. 

She started her career as a Catholic school teacher in Austin and Harlingen. She later worked at TKO Advertising, served as the assistant director of community engagement with the Austin Independent School District and developed programs with the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium.

“Four years ago, my husband and I moved back to El Paso to live the life we always wanted,” Limón Garza said, adding that she realized what she most loved about Austin strongly resembled her hometown.

“I’m a product of the borderland,” she said, describing coming home with her husband, Leonel, a native of Chicago, as a “re-encuentro,” or reunion, with family.

The orange monarch butterfly, frequently adopted as a symbol for migrants’ rights, features prominently in a mural at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Limón Garza said she was inspired to work in human rights advocacy by her parents – longtime educator and former city Rep. Lily Limón and human resources specialist Jose M. Limón – who have both been involved in political activism.

Working in the social justice field may have come full circle for her: At Notre Dame, she participated in an Alliance for Catholic Education project involving the Annunciation House in El Paso.

Las Americas was founded in 1987 by El Paso human rights activists Ruben Garcia and Delia Gomez, co-founders of Annunciation House, the nonprofit volunteer organization rooted in Catholic social teachings that offers hospitality to migrants and refugees.

At the time, the borderland saw an influx of Central Americans fleeing their countries in search of refuge.

In the last few years, Las Americas came under the national spotlight as it fought anti-immigrant policies enacted during the Trump administration, primarily the separation of migrant families.

That also led to an influx of donations to the nonprofit.

Las Americas reported nearly $1.7 million in contributions on its 990 IRS form in 2020, the latest year available on the GuideStar nonprofit database. That’s up from $833,000 in 2019 and $529,000 in 2018 – and nearly 20 times more than the $99,000 in donations reported in 2017.

Limón Garza wouldn’t divulge her salary, but said it falls within the $90,000 to $120,000 a year range advertised in the job posting. She’ll report to the board of directors.

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...