Mony Ruiz-Velasco is leaving PASO in April. | File

An Oak Park attorney, who is the executive director of one of the most prominent immigrant rights nonprofits in the Chicago area, announced last week she’s stepping down from the role.

In a statement released March 27, the board of directors for PASO – West Suburban Action Project announced that Mony Ruiz-Velasco was leaving the helm of the organization after nearly five years as executive director, effective April 30. The board has launched an executive search for a new director, according to the statement.

Ruiz-Velasco’s departure comes less than a month after seven out of the organization’s eight non-managerial staffers went on indefinite strike and called for Ruiz-Velasco’s resignation.

The workers claimed that under Ruiz-Velasco, they “encountered various forms of intimidation, abuse of power, deceit, disrespect, and overall inferior treatment that does not mirror the values we hold at PASO,” according to a signed statement they released on March 2.

The board explained in a statement released earlier this month that PASO has “grown as an organization over these last few years and as a result have implemented additional structures that we feel are necessary to meet the needs of the community for the sustainability of our organization and staff.”

At the time of the strike, PASO’s board and Ruiz-Velasco explained that they had recommended the use of an independent mediator to help resolve some of the organization’s challenges but that the workers refused to engage in the process.

“There have been no findings of mistreatment or abusive labor practices by any governmental agency,” said Ruiz-Velasco during a March 4 press conference. “PASO board members and management have made many efforts in good faith to work together to resolve the issues.”

In its statement announcing Ruiz-Velasco’s departure, the board did not give a reason for her departure and did not mention the worker strike. Board members and Ruiz-Velasco could not be reached for comment on March 31. And PASO has closed its offices while Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order is in place.

In its March 30 statement, the PASO board said that under Ruiz-Velasco, “PASO created and developed its immigration legal services program, which has provided representation and advocacy for thousands of families.

“PASO has developed campaigns and projects that build community power and provide tools for leadership development and empowerment, and has worked alongside the community to pass progressive pro-immigrant ordinances and state laws.”

Ruiz-Velasco said she is “very grateful to the board, our funders, friends, faith leaders, allies, and partners for your trust and support and proud of the accomplishments of PASO over these past five years.”

She added that the nonprofit under her tenure “led the way in providing critical immigration legal resources in the Western suburbs, passed the most welcoming state and municipal policies in the country, and deepened our relationships with key partners to build a larger movement for the benefit of communities of color, LGBTQ folks, and other vulnerable individuals.”

“For over 10 years, PASO has focused on community outreach and on the development of community leaders who have spearheaded campaigns for social change,” said Amailia Pallares, PASO’s board co-chair. “We hope to continue deepening and enhancing this work in the near future.”

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