Co-Director & Co-Founder, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)
Conchita is the Co-Director of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), which fights to end the wrongful detention and deportation of asylum seekers. She co-founded ASAP after traveling to the border to volunteer at the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest family detention facility in the country, where mothers and children are detained together. When Conchita co-founded ASAP in 2015, it was an all-volunteer effort, which will soon be a staff of eleven. Prior to co-founding ASAP, Conchita worked in government, political campaigns, and as an immigrants’ rights advocate. She served as Deputy Chief of Staff to former U.S. Congressman Jared Polis and as Chief of Staff for State Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx. Conchita worked as a policy and political advisor for progressive local, state, and federal candidates in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and New York, and served as a Spanish-language spokeswoman for President Obama’s re-election campaign. She has also worked as a community organizer for the Central American Resource Center, and hosted a Spanish-language radio show in South Carolina focusing on immigration issues. Conchita graduated from Brown University with a concentration in International Relations and Latin American Studies, and completed her law degree at Yale Law School.
I am a relentless advocate. When presented with a problem, I see it as a challenge to come up with a creative solution. My goal is to use the power that comes along with my U.S. citizenship and my education to fight for the rights of refugees and immigrants.
I am the daughter of a formerly undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, and a Cuban asylum seeker who came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor. From a young age, immigration issues were all around me as family members and friends struggled with whether to get on a raft to flee Cuba, or travel to the Mexico-U.S. border to cross the Rio Grande in search of a better life. That experience led me to the immigrants’ rights movement, where I worked as an organizer, interpreter, and on one occasion as a Spanish-language radio personality in South Carolina. I thought I could make a difference in government, and worked at both the federal and state level to advance immigrants’ rights issues. But after it became clear that large scale reform of our immigration system was many years away, I decided to go to law school to work on cases one at a time, help families navigate our broken immigration system, and change the law through the courts.
The Trump Administration has tried to stop families from seeking asylum in the United States by any means possible. Seemingly every week, an announcement is made to either deter families from seeking refuge at the border, or to make it impossible for them to win asylum once they are already here. As a result, individuals and families who normally would have had a very strong asylum case, now face an uphill battle. Unfortunately, ominous headlines and rumors in the community can make it seem to many asylum seekers that there is no hope, or that it is not worth applying for asylum. But the reality is that families are still winning asylum, albeit less frequently than before, and just like the law changed for the worse rather quickly, it can change for the better as cases reach federal Courts of Appeal. That’s why it is critical for organizations and attorneys across the country to communicate that all is not lost – and that in the United States, asylum seekers still have rights, among them the opportunity to present their case and fight for asylum.
When women and children seeking asylum began to be detained at our southern border, programs emerged for law students and attorneys to go to Texas to volunteer. When I went down to Texas with the other co-founders of ASAP, we were going to represent Suny Rodriguez, a mother who was being forced to have her trial while in detention. After she won in court, she turned to us and asked what would happen to the next family who had to have a trial in detention. We were leaving the next day, so we told her there wasn’t anything we could do. Suny reminded us that prior to her victory, other mothers who were going to court unrepresented were losing – and facing imminent deportation. She told us that we had to find a way. We decided to try to represent families at a distance, and after the first success, decided to ensure every family forced to have a trial had legal representation. A few months later, every family forced to go to trial while in detention at the facility had won their case, and the government began to release these families. Suny’s call to action drove us to keep going, and it ultimately was the push we needed to start ASAP, an organization that provides rapid response, emergency legal aid at a distance to formerly detained asylum seekers regardless of where they live in the United States. Suny’s call to action changed our vision of how legal services could be provided, and certainly, it changed the course of my career.
We provide information and guidance to over 3,000 formerly detained mothers who are members of our online community. These mothers are often navigating a complex immigration process on their own. I want our online community members to feel that we are giving them the information and tools we would want to get through the process without an attorney. The ideal experience is that we are able to support asylum seekers through their process, that they win asylum, and support other asylum seekers who are still in the midst of their own legal proceedings.
Do work you are passionate about and be willing to go wherever your career takes you. It is not always a linear progression, and that’s fine. Every job I have ever had has helped to prepare me in some way for the role I find myself in now as Co-Director of ASAP. I wouldn’t have done any of it differently.