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Lisa Brodyaga, Crusading Lawyer for Immigrants’ Rights, Dies at 81

As leftist revolution and U.S.-backed counter-insurgencies spread through El Salvador and Guatemala in the early 1980s, Central America became awash in bloodshed, sending refugees fleeing to the United States border in hopes of a new life.

When they got there, a combative immigration lawyer named Lisa Brodyaga, who had only recently passed the Texas bar exam, was waiting.

She was running Proyecto Libertad, a pro bono legal initiative in Texas representing asylum seekers, and by the decade’s end she had helped defend thousands in court. She went on to earn a reputation as a litigious thorn in the side of federal border enforcement agencies for the next 40 years.

“Lisa was a leader in a whole movement of lawyers who decided to approach the representation of immigrants with a civil rights consciousness,” said Susan Gzesh, an immigrant rights expert who teaches at the University of Chicago. “She helped firmly establish that undocumented asylum seekers have rights under our Bill of Rights. She taught immigration lawyers to not be afraid to go into federal courts.”

Ms. Brodyaga (pronounced brod-YA-ga) died on Oct. 28 at her home at a refuge camp she founded near San Benito, Texas. She was 81. The cause was lung cancer, her son, Paul Mockett Jr., said. Her death was not widely reported at the time.

Wearing her hair in a long single braid down her back, Ms. Brodyaga was known to show up at court wearing sandals or cowboy boots. If the federal prosecutors she faced smirked at first, it was because they were uninitiated. By lunch break they were often stepping outside to collect themselves after the verbal barrage Ms. Brodyaga had directed at them in defense of her client.

“I like to be underestimated,” she once told law students at the University of Miami. “I like to have people think, ‘She’s just a hick lawyer.’” She added: “Go ahead, I dare you. Dismiss me.”

Read entire article at New York Times