Salinas, who hosts the main news broadcast on Univision with co-anchor Jorge Ramos, has been weighing her departure for several years and says the time is right to pursue independent projects, including some in English.
"It's time to go find other audiences," the 62-year-old anchor said in an interview last week at the Univision studios outside Miami.
Her departure comes at a difficult time for many immigrants who view the nightly program as a lifeline for understanding current events. President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to crack down on illegal immigration, and his administration has increased enforcement efforts and announced plans to cancel several programs that have allowed tens of thousands of people without permanent residency status to stay in the U.S.
Some advocates say immigrants will lose an important voice when Salinas steps down this Friday.
"She is someone who understands the situation," said Natalia Jaramillo, a spokeswoman for We Belong Together, a group that promotes the rights of immigrant families. "It's refreshing and inspiring to have someone like her who can sway public opinion, raise her voice and represent the community."
From the anchor desk at Univision, Salinas and Ramos have a big audience that makes them among the most-watched television journalists in the U.S. in any language, with their reach expanding dramatically in recent years as the Hispanic population has grown across the country. But their core viewership is still made up of immigrants and first-generation Americans who primarily speak Spanish and have remained loyal to the network for years.
Salinas, the California-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, can relate to that audience and has no qualms about turning to advocacy.
"If you are insulting an undocumented immigrant, you may be insulting my father or my cousin or my uncle or my neighbor," she said.
Her views have also come through in opinion columns published on the Univision website, her Twitter feed and an open letter that she sent to Trump during the campaign after he described Mexican immigrants as drug dealers. "You have to call things by their name," she wrote. "Enough with the racism and the xenophobia."
Going forward, Salinas says she plans to pursue some independent documentary projects after taking a break to recover from a busy news schedule and spend more time with her two adult daughters.
She will start in January by working on the second season of her English-language series, "The Real Story with Maria Elena Salinas," on the Investigation Discovery network.
"For years we have been informing the Latino community about their stories," she said. "Now it is time to tell their stories to different audiences in different platforms."
Salinas began working for Univision in Los Angeles in 1981 after two years in radio. She eventually became host of the main nightly news program and the news magazine show "Aqui y Ahora," or "Here and Now." She has also interviewed a host of Latin American leaders and every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter apart from Trump, who has not agreed to sit down with her or Ramos and ejected her co-anchor from a news conference during the campaign.
Throughout her career, she has picked up many journalistic honors, including the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Lifetime Achievement Award, the Peabody Award, a Gracie Award for Outstanding Anchor and seven Emmy awards.
But these are tough, evolving times for Univision and the news industry in general as people increasingly turn to a variety of sources to stay informed. Salinas said one factor in her decision to leave was a desire to try new things before it is too late.
"Now is the time to start over," she said. "Sometimes you have to make a drastic decision to change."
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