Efrén C. Olivares is the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. The project focuses on ending immigrant detention, including through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, a program that provides pro bono legal representation to detained immigrants at immigration detention centers in the Deep South. Olivares and his team also defend workers’ rights, ensure local policing is not entangled with immigration enforcement, seek family reunification and protect the rights of asylum seekers.
Olivares is an accomplished civil rights lawyer representing clients before federal courts and international human rights bodies for over a decade. He previously directed the Racial and Economic Justice Program (now Beyond Borders) at the Texas Civil Rights Project, serving as the lead attorney in a landmark petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which he represented families separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
Olivares’ writings on immigration policy have been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and Newsweek. He has testified before Congress and at Capitol Hill briefings. His work was featured in the CBS News documentary The Faces of Family Separation. He has been interviewed as an expert attorney on immigrants’ rights issues in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN and other outlets, as well as numerous TV and radio programs including John Legend’s Can’t Just Preach series. His essay, “Law Enforcement and Immigration Enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley,” was published in Racism in America: A Reference Handbook in 2020.
His memoir, My Boy Will Die of Sorrow: A Memoir of Immigration from the Front Lines, was published in 2022. After migrating to the United States from Mexico at age 13, Olivares was the first member of his family to attend college. He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania and received his law degree from Yale Law School. He completed a Bernstein Fellowship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and practiced litigation at Fulbright & Jaworski, L.L.P., now Norton Rose Fulbright. Olivares is a member of the bar in Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.