Las Americas was born on May 1, 1987 to answer the needs of a large influx of Central Americans who sought refuge in El Paso. This international migration flow was first noticed by Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, an El Paso immigrant shelter. Men, women and children arrived at Annunciation House, having fled war-torn Central American countries. They were seeking asylum, a long and complicated process that the staff at the shelter tried to facilitate by recruiting pro bono lawyers to represent the refugees. The Annunciation House staff also started to go to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (predecessor to Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center to help asylum seekers who were detained.
Eventually, however, the staff was overwhelmed. It became obvious that trained legal assistance was needed to help the refugees. Mr. Garcia consulted with Dan Kesselbrenner of the National Immigration Project, Daniel Katz of Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen, Texas, and with local church and civic leaders to create a legal assistance office for asylum seekers in El Paso. Las Americas was born with Mr. Garcia as the first board president. Executive directors included Tom Spaniolo, Delia Gomez, Sister Liliane Alam, Ray Rojas and Cathy Chilsholm (interim).
By the mid-1990’s, Las Americas began to assist children and women detained by the INS through its Justice for Women and Children Project. Las Americas also started representing battered immigrant women under the Battered Immigrant Women Project. In 2002, Las Americas moved to its own building at 1500 E. Yandell Drive.
Today, Las Americas continues to be one of the only non-profit legal service providers to assist low-income immigrants in the El Paso region.