Leadership Transitions at Safe Passage Project

Safe Passage, June 23, 2021

Rich Leimsider to Step Down as Executive Director; Desireé Hernández Sánchez Will Become Interim Executive Director

Today, Rich Leimsider announced he will depart from Safe Passage Project in the Fall of 2021, with longtime Deputy Executive Director Desireé Hernández Sánchez assuming the role of Interim Executive Director on August 1, 2021, ensuring overlap and continuity of leadership.

At the time of Leimsider’s arrival in 2016 the organization was only 3 years old, but already serving hundreds of clients with a dozen staff and a nearly $1MM budget. Five years later, Safe Passage Project provides free lawyers to more than 1,300 children, supported by 41 full-time staff, 400+ pro bono attorneys, and a nearly $5MM budget. Accomplishments in recent years have included launching a full satellite office serving Long Island, taking on as clients dozens of children forcibly separated from their parents, winning rights for thousands of young people through national litigation in Saravia v Barr and Joshua M. v Barr, and pursuing State legislation that will protect thousands more. All this occurred at a time of unrelenting attacks on immigrants by the previous administration, a global pandemic, a vital racial justice reckoning, and threats to American democracy.

Incoming Interim Executive Director Desireé Hernández Sánchez currently serves as Safe Passage Project’s Deputy Executive Director and Legal Director, leading a team of 27 attorneys and paralegals. A recognized leader in the field, she was most recently quoted in a report from the Migration Policy Institute on issues facing unaccompanied minors. Hernández Sánchez is an expert immigration attorney having volunteered with Safe Passage Project during her time as a private sector immigration attorney, before joining the staff more than 6 years ago.

In reflecting on this transition, Pam Foster, Safe Passage Project’s board chair, said “I couldn’t be more proud of how Safe Passage Project has evolved under Rich’s leadership over the past five years. While I’m sorry to see Rich go, he leaves the organization in a very strong and stable position, poised to serve increasing numbers of immigrant youth in the years to come. And with the extremely talented Desireé Hernández Sánchez in the interim role, we will ensure seamless support for our clients during this transition period and beyond.”

Safe Passage Project Founder Lenni Benson added: “Rich has enabled Safe Passage Project to help thousands of children and has ably supported our entire community of advocates as we endeavor to ensure that immigrant children are protected. I have known Desireé Hernández Sánchez for nearly 15 years and admire her deeply. I know she will continue to help us all ensure that no child in New York will face the cruelty of the immigration process without strong support from our staff and the many pro bono partners of Safe Passage Project. I look forward to working with Desireé and the entire team. Together we will help move the immigration system to one that recognizes the best interests of children.”

Rich Leimsider said: “It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve the mission and people of Safe Passage Project. These have not been easy years for our clients and our field, and I am so proud of everything we have been able to accomplish together. As I took time recently to reflect on my time at Safe Passage and the intensity of the past year, it became clear that this was the right moment for a change. I’m looking forward to some time off and then diving into new opportunities. The strength of our clients is inspiring. And the passion, expertise, and support of our staff, board, partners and volunteers have sustained me as a leader. I could not be more thrilled to see my long time partner and friend Desireé Hernández Sánchez take on the role of Interim ED. She is absolutely the right leader to steward Safe Passage through this process and to ensure we continue to serve our clients effectively as our leadership team evolves.”

Desireé Hernández Sánchez said: “I have been fortunate to work with and learn from Rich in the last five years. I am proud of Rich’s leadership in responding to crisis after crisis during the last administration and successfully steering our organization through trying times. I look forward to serving as the Interim ED and guiding Safe Passage through this transition with the support of our Board and our dedicated staff.”

Leimsider will remain with the organization through September 2021 but his last day as Executive Director will be July 31. To ensure continuity and stability, Hernández will assume the role of Interim Executive Director on August 1, 2021, with Leimsider then in an advisory role.