McAllen native to attend State of the Union

Working as a bilingual first-grade teacher in Austin, Aissa Olivarez of McAllen said she saw firsthand the struggles of immigrants.

“I started to see a lot of my students and their families encountering issues with immigration and needing a strong advocate,” Olivarez said. “Since I had always wanted to go to law school, I would go … and focus on immigrant rights.”

Olivarez, who is now the first staff attorney with the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, Wis., will attend the State of the Union address Tuesday night as a guest of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis. The organization gives assistance to low-income immigrants.

In a news release, Pocan was critical of President Trump and praised Olivarez’s work to “keep families together.”

“Over the last two years, the Trump administration has manufactured a humanitarian crisis on the southern border and escalated detentions of immigrants with either no prior criminal record, or with minor offenses such as traffic violations,” Pocan said in a statement. “During this time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 83 people in Wisconsin, targeting our local immigrant community and breaking up families. Throughout these events, Aissa Olivarez has worked tirelessly to keep families together and ensure that the government respects every individual’s rights.”

After graduating with a bachelor degree in government from the University of Texas in 2018 and teaching with Austin ISD until 2013, Olivarez attended law school at the University of Wisconsin.

Olivarez immediately began volunteering with CILC, and her first job out of law school was with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) in Harlingen.

“As a young girl, I grew up in McAllen seeing the vast difference between what was happening on our side … (and) on the Tamaulipas side of the border — how poverty and violence were rampant and why was it that way,” she said. “Why would this border, an obituary line on a map, make things so incredibly different for the same people?

“I feel like I was closer to the issue, for that reason.”

She said the invite was “truly an honor” and was grateful for the opportunity to talk about her clients, even though she said their experiences are too nuanced to express in a conversation.

“I can’t tell their stories for them,” Olivarez said. “They’ve suffered through a lot, but I hope I can at least shed some light on what they’ve suffered through and the injustice that they experienced in ICE detention now that the administration has upped enforcement against the undocumented community.”