Centro Hispano of Dane County announced on Tuesday that Aissa Olivarez has won the Ilda C. Thomas Award. Named after Centro Hispano’s founder, the award is given to someone who represents, with humility, a strong voice for the Latino community.
Olivarez is currently a managing attorney at the Community Immigration Law Center (CILC) in Madison. CILC is a nonprofit organization created to “contribute to the community and to address the unmet legal needs of immigrants in Madison and surrounding areas,” according to their website. CILC provides clients with information, support and referrals to immigration attorneys, as well as legal representation for detained non-citizens.
Olivarez started working at the law center as a volunteer in 2013, while she was still a student at the UW Law School. After graduating in 2016, she moved back to her home state Texas, where she worked at the US Mexico Border representing children who were being deported. It was there where she heard about CILC’s initiative to represent adults who were being detained in Wisconsin, and moved back to Madison to be part of that program. She’s been there ever since.
“I came back to work for a program that ensures immigration representation for anyone who may not otherwise have it,” Olivarez said. “I wanted to be part of that fairness, equality and due process of people who may be deported.”
As a managing attorney, Olivarez meets with individuals to discuss their deportation case and the processes that come along with it, meet with family members to let them know how they can help and defends people in their removal proceedings at the Chicago Immigration Removal Court.
Olivarez was unaware that she was nominated for the award, and was humbled by being chosen.
“I think there are a lot of really amazing leaders in Madison, many that I look up to that are deserving of this award and so I’m very humbled and inspired to continue to do this work,” she said. “I do this work because I love it. The accolades are extra but it’s nice to have my work recognized. Ultimately I’m excited for the work we’re doing at the CLIC to be highlighted and looked at, because what we’re doing is cutting edge at a time when immigration is a very political issue.”
Olivarez was always interested in law, but didn’t know what kind of law she wanted to practice until she started working as a teacher and saw how students were affected by deportation. It was then she decided to go into immigration law, and she hopes to remain there, providing assistance to people who face deportation.
“Immigration law is my passion,” Olivarez said. “I hope to continue my work within removal defense and dedication to universal representation, shedding a light on the injustice our community faces so that broader change can happen in the future.”
She also contributed the work she’s done to the support she’s had from Madison leaders and her family.
“I would like to include a thank you to all the leaders who have paved a way for me to do the work that I do in Dane County and Madison,” Olivarez said. “I’d also like to thank my family, especially my husband and 5-year old daughter. Often I have to sacrifice time with them for time with my clients and their families. I appreciate that they’re very understanding of what I do and supportive.”
The Ilda C. Thomas Award, along with several others, will be presented on Saturday, Sept. 21 during Centro Hispano’s 30th Annual Celebration Gala, themed “Esperanza” (Hope). The event will be held at the Premiere Park Hotel in downtown Madison.