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Mourning the Loss of Lisa Brodyaga, the Original “Abogada”

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

In this season of gratitude, the Las Abogadas film team wishes to honor the original “abogada” — Lisa Brodyaga. She died on October 28, 2021 at the age of 81, but her legacy lives on.

Lisa was a pioneering immigration lawyer. In 1981, she founded Proyecto Libertad in South Texas, the first pro bono law office focused on providing legal services to immigrants held in immigration detention centers along the border — prisons for immigrants which, then even more than now, were largely hidden from public view. From 1981 to 1985, she provided legal assistance to more than 7,000 Central Americans. She has been called the intellectual author of the Salvadoran sanctuary movement of the 1980s.

In addition to providing direct legal services to migrants in need, Lisa led many impactful federal lawsuits, one of which was a federal class action lawsuit, Orantes-Hernandez v. Smith, which challenged a U.S. government policy under which immigration judges summarily denied asylum to more than 100,000 Salvadoran and Guatemalan asylum-seekers, while summarily granting asylum to Nicaraguan asylum-seekers. This of course was at a time when the United States under President Ronald Reagan was propping up the repressive Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments while simultaneously waging war against Nicaragua. This lawsuit eventually overturned more judicial rulings than any other lawsuit in U.S. history.

After “retiring” from Proyecto Libertad in 1985, Lisa founded the Refugio del Río Grande, a law office and refuge for torture victims in San Benito, Texas, where she continued to live and serve as a volunteer attorney until her death. According to Robert Kahn, who wrote a lengthy tribute to Lisa in Courthouse News, "Lisa leaves behind her beloved boxers, a pair of white llamas, a flock of chickens, a small, spoiled herd of cattle, and a white horse."

Lisa was a mentor to generations of immigration attorneys and an unrelenting, inspirational advocate for human rights.

A more detailed account of Lisa’s extraordinary career is available at

Rest in power, Lisa.

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