|Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Department of Homeland Security|
February 23, 2009
|Alma mater||University of Florida Levin College of Law (J.D.)
University of Florida (B.A.)
Esther Olavarria is an American government official and attorney. She is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Born in Cuba, she emigrated to the United States at age 5 with her four siblings and her parents. She graduated cum laude from the University of Florida in 1983 and received her law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1986. Olavarria was featured in the documentary series How Democracy Works Now: Twelve Stories.
Olavarria has spent years representing immigrants and working on the issue of immigration. Between 1986 and 1998 she was a staff attorney for the Haitian Refugee Center, co-founder and managing attorney of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and on staff with Legal Services of Greater Miami as directing attorney with the American Immigration Lawyer Pro Bono Project. From 1998-2007 she was counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy and the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees and from 2007-8 Senior Advisor for Government and External Relations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. From August 2008 until her appointment to the Department of Homeland Security in February 2009 she was Senior Fellow and Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center
According to its website FIAC was founded in 1996 as a response to budget cuts that no longer allowed government agencies to service illegal immigrants. It is "a not-for-profit legal assistance organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the basic human rights of immigrants of all nationalities at the local, state and national levels." According to her biography on the Center for American Progress website she was a co founder of this organization. Her co-founder, Cheryl Little thinks that Olavarria will "fight tooth and nail" for immigrants. She "knows her way around immigration laws ... and ... is aware of the challenges that immigrants face on a daily basis."
Interested parties on both sides of the immigration debate think that her appointment gives insight into what to expect from the Obama administration on this issue. "Observers on both sides of the aisle credit her with essentially drafting the 2007 immigration reform bill sponsored by Kennedy and Sen. John McCain of Arizona."
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (which favors restricting immigration) confirms this, "She wrote the bill. She was Kennedy's main immigration person. She was really driving that bus."
"The fact that they chose her signals to me that the Obama administration is very serious about looking at the immigration system, and then finally coming up with a viable solution for redress," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.
Krikorian also claims that "Olavarria's appointment can be seen as a sign Obama will work toward some sort of amnesty for undocumented migrants -- often viewed as the third rail of immigration policy. 'He clearly has to give the pro-amnesty side something,' Krikorian said."
She was featured in the documentary film "Last Best Chance", Story Twelve of the series How Democracy Works Now, from filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini. A version of the film premiered on HBO in March 2010, under the title "The Senator's Bargain".
Other films she appears in through the series include:
- Story 5: "The Kids Across the Hill"
- Story 7: "Ain't the AFL for Nothin'"
- Story 8: "The Road to Miami"
- Story 11: "The Senate Speaks"
- Esther Olavarria Joins CAP/CAPAF as Senior Fellow (Accessed on April 20, 2009)
- John Morton to Lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Secretary Napolitano Names Esther Olavarria as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy (Accessed September 1, 2009)
- Miller, Carol Marbin (February 24, 2009). "A South Floridian is tapped to help shape immigration policy in D.C.". Miami Herald.