Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center's staff is composed of dedicated human rights activists from a broad range of advocacy and legal backgrounds. Our legal services staff includes licensed attorneys, paralegals, and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives.
Staff members can be contacted by email using the following format: [first initial][last name]@heartlandalliance.org.
Heidi Altman is the director of policy. Previously, she served as the legal director for the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, where she oversaw the provision of legal services to men, women, and children in immigration custody as well as the provision of training and resources to pro bono attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Heidi previously created the in-house immigration services program at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and served as a Teaching Fellow in the immigration clinic at Georgetown Law School. She regularly provides analysis of immigration laws and policy proposals to news outlets including VICE, CNN, The New York Times, and Politico. Heidi is a graduate of New York University School of Law.
Michele Amatangelo is the resource development director. Michele previously served as a Sudan Program manager at USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives in Washington, D.C. Prior to USAID, she spent a number of years in the private sector and also served as an economic development volunteer in the Peace Corps in Honduras. She received a bachelor of science in finance from Boston College and an master's of science in foreign service with a certificate in refugee and humanitarian emergencies from Georgetown University.
Erika Asgeirsson is a supervising attorney with NIJC’s Counter-Trafficking Project, and previously served as an EJW/CVJC fellow with NIJC. She provides direct representation and victims’ rights advocacy to survivors of human trafficking, and conducts outreach and training to improve early identification of trafficking survivors. Prior to joining NIJC, Erika was a legal fellow at Human Rights First, where she advocated for policies to combat hate crime. Before law school, she served as a community health development volunteer in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. She earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her B.A. from the George Washington University. She is licensed to practice law in New York.
Erik Bingham is a Legal Supervisor with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Erik taught English in Spain. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During college, Erik volunteered with the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center.
Kathleen Bush-Joseph is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Before joining NIJC, Kathleen worked as a consultant at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Switzerland. Previously, Kathleen was a Staff Attorney in the Housing Unit at the Legal Aid Society of New York. During law school, she interned at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Washington, D.C. and at OHCHR in Switzerland. Kathleen attended UCLA School of Law.
Lisa Chun is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Detention Project. Lisa began her legal career in nonprofit organizations in North Carolina. She worked on prisoners’ rights cases, including removal defense for incarcerated noncitizens, as a staff attorney at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, and immigration cases as a managing attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center. Prior to joining the NIJC, Lisa worked in private practice specializing in the intersection of immigration consequences of criminal convictions and other complex immigration-law related litigation in administrative and judicial proceedings. She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2003 and her Bachelor of Art’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998.
Peter Claassen is a legal supervisor with the Asylum, Immigrant Legal Defense, and Immigrant Children's Protection Project at NIJC's Goshen, Indiana office. Peter graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he participated in the Immigration Clinic and interned at Jewish Family & Community Services and the Community Justice Project. Prior to law school, Peter worked as a BIA accredited representative at RAICES in San Antonio, TX in their Unaccompanied Immigrant Children's program, and at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis, IN. He is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.
Alejandra Cohen is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Alejandra graduated cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in 2021, where she double majored in International Affairs and Environmental Policy and minored in German. Alejandra wrote her senior thesis on The Ethnic Self-Identification Process of Second-Generation Latinxs in the US. As an undergraduate, she began working in immigration law at The Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project, and later continued serving immigrants at the Immigration Law Clinic at Washington University Law School.
Irving Cortes-Martinez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. He graduated summa cum laude from Union College with a double major in Political Science and Latin American & Caribbean Studies and a minor in Africana Studies. Irving interned at the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants as an undergraduate helping immigrants and refugees resettle in their new communities. Prior to NIJC, Irving was in Malaysia teaching English through the Fulbright Program.
Taha Din is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Project. He graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago in 2021, where he majored in History and minored in Classical Studies and Arabic. During his time in undergrad, Taha did legal research for and participated in a mock trial course through Northwestern University’s school of law. Additionally, he has interned at a real estate litigation boutique law firm, as well as at the Bank of America. Outside of the office, Taha spends his time volunteering with various organizations that build and provide funding for schools in Karachi, Pakistan. He also has his own non-profit charity project called Play on Pakistan, which covers the annual athletic expenses for children in Karachi and supplies them with free sporting equipment and gear.
Mary Meg Donnelly is a coordinator with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project. She holds a BA in Modern Language and Philosophy from Seton Hall University and an MA in Philosophy from Georgia State University. After graduating from Seton Hall, she spent a year teaching English with children aged 5-17 in Milan, Italy. Throughout her studies, she worked with several organizations dedicated to human rights and children’s welfare, including Amnesty International and Family Promise, a non-profit committed to helping families facing homelessness.
Azadeh Erfani is a Senior Policy Analyst for NIJC's D.C.-based Policy team. Azadeh previously led impact litigation on racial justice and immigrants' rights at the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban affairs. Prior to that position, Azadeh was a Managing Attorney at the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, defending detained children from deportation. Azadeh leads NIJC's response to regulatory attacks, the assault on asylum, and immigrant children and youths' rights. Azadeh holds a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, an M.A. from DePaul University, and a J.D. from Villanova University; she is licensed in Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Bek Erl is the coordinator with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. They previously worked as a paralegal on NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. They graduated from Knox College with a degree in Modern Languages. During their time at Knox, they conducted a year-long study on interpreting and translation services for multilingual families, language rights, and family-school collaborative partnerships. They volunteered with the Dilley Pro Bono Project as a Legal Assistant/Spanish Interpreter at the South Texas Family Residential Center. Bek has volunteered with the Immigrant Justice Campaign as an interpreter for their Remote Bond Team, and with Illinois Legal Aid Online as a Spanish translator.
Vanessa Esparza-López is a managing attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, where she represents individuals before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Justice. Vanessa is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), where she currently serves on the Chicago AILA District Director Liaison committee. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 2009 and her Bachelor of Arts with honors in International Studies from DePaul University in 2006. During law school, Vanessa was the cofounder of a new student group, the Society for Asylum & Immigration Law.
David Faherty is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Detention Project. Dave previously worked as a staff attorney at the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Chicago Immigration Court. Before law school, he worked at the Open Society Foundations and was a teaching fellow in Malaysia with Princeton-in-Asia. Dave graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Maine School of Law, and is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Mark Feldman is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mark was a senior attorney at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, where he represented detained individuals with serious mental illness through the National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP), and managed his program’s appeals before the BIA. Previously, Mark was a fellow at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, where he represented people sentenced to death in Alabama, and people sentenced to life without parole as children throughout the South. Before EJI, Mark clerked for U.S. District Court judges Jesus Bernal of the Central District of California, and Robert P. Patterson, Jr. of the Southern District of New York. Mark is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Stanford Law School and is licensed in California.
Lhesly M. Fernández is a staff attorney with NIJC's Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. Prior to NIJC, Lhesly received her J.D. from DePaul College of Law, where she participated in the Asylum and Immigration Clinic and interned with NIJC’s Detention Project. Lhesly graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Latin America Foreign Policy. During college she studied abroad in Italy.
Nubia Fimbres is a policy associate for NIJC’s D.C-based Policy Team. Previously, she worked as a Legal Assistant for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition where she provided Know your Rights presentations and legal intakes to unaccompanied children in ORR shelters in Maryland and Virginia. She received a B.S in Biology from the University of Arizona and a Master of Philosophy in International Peace Studies from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Prior to school, she spent half a year in Thailand teaching English and Science to middle school students.
Mark Fleming is the associate director of NIJC's Federal Litigation Project. Mr. Fleming focuses on strategic litigation and public policy related to immigration enforcement and detention. NIJC’s work on enforcement issues was recognized with the 2014 Daniel Levy Award of the National Immigration Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mark was a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights focused on migrants' rights in the western hemisphere. In that capacity, he coordinated the Inter-American Commission's investigation into human rights concerns with U.S. immigration enforcement, detention, and due process detention's impact on due process. Mark graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center in 2006. While in law school, he worked on a host of immigrants' rights projects, including representing asylum seekers and coordinating a fact-finding mission to Ecuador to investigate the impacts of changes to U.S. immigration law on Colombian refugees. Mark is licensed by the State of New York.
Cecelia Forberg is a paralegal with NIJC's Asylum Project. She graduated with a B.A. in International Studies and Geography from DePaul University in 2017. During her time at DePaul, she worked in refugee resettlement with Heartland Alliance's Refugee and Immigrant Community Services. Prior to joining NIJC, Cecelia worked at an emergency shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers in Austin, Texas.
Jesse Franzblau is the senior policy analyst for NIJC's D.C.-based Policy Team. He works on NIJC's Transparency and Human Rights Project, and conducts investigative research on human rights abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, Jesse worked at Open the Government, directing the FOIA projects and specializing in open government laws to increase access to information on immigration policies, and has published articles with Al Jazeera, The Nation, The Intercept, Truthout, Huffington Post, Michigan Journal of Public Affairs, Proceso (MX), the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, and other outlets. He holds an MPP from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Dalia Fuleihan is a senior attorney with NIJC's Asylum Project, providing technical support to pro bono attorneys representing individuals seeking asylum. Prior to joining NIJC, Dalia was an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association in Connecticut, where she handled a wide variety of immigration cases, including both detained and non-detained asylum claims, as well as other types of removal defense. Dalia received her B.A. magna cum laude from Northwestern University and her J.D. magna cum laude from Boston University School of Law. Dalia is licensed in Illinois.
Aneesha Gandhi is the associate director of NIJC's Protection-Based Relief Project, and has led NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative since 2019. Prior to joining NIJC, Aneesha was a legal fellow at the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Immigration Assistance Program. During law school, she interned for NIJC, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, the Greater Boston Legal Services' Immigration Unit, and the Vera Institute. Aneesha currently serves on the board of Healing to Action and is a former collective member of Chicago Desi Youth Rising. She holds a B.A. from Smith College and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. Aneesha is licensed in Michigan.
Brenda Garcia is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Brenda spent two years with Catholic Charities of Central Florida where she was an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow. She handled affirmative and defensive immigration cases. Brenda graduated from Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University College of Law, and is licensed in Michigan.
Martha Laura Garcia-Izaguirre (Laura) is a supervising attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Laura spent four years with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico: two as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and two as a Supervising Attorney. She was also the Legal Supervisor for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center’s citizenship and DACA pro se workshops. Laura received a B.A. in International Relations with a minor in History and Ibero-American Studies from St. Louis University-Madrid, and a J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law with a certificate in Public Interest Law. In 2019, she was awarded the Emerging Leader Award from her alma mater for her work as an immigration advocate. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Mary Georgevich is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project. Mary is also an adjunct clinical professor with the Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining NIJC, Mary was an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, where she represented Somali individuals who were detained in ICE custody or at risk of detention by ICE. Before ILCM, Mary clerked for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne K. McKeig. Mary is a graduate of Santa Clara University and the University of Minnesota School of Law and is licensed in Minnesota. And prior to attending law school, Mary worked as a paralegal and accredited representative with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Project and Immigrant Children’s Protection Project.
Elizabeth Gibson is the Managing Attorney for Capacity Building and Mentorship at the National Immigrant Justice Center. She previously served as Senior Staff Attorney/Coordinating Attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group, was an Immigrant Justice Corps fellow, clerked at the New York Immigration Court, and worked at the Open Society Justice Initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Federation of the Red Cross, UNHCR, and the U.S. Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State. She received her J.D. and Certificate in Refugee and Humanitarian Emergencies from Georgetown Law. Before law school, Elizabeth worked as a newspaper reporter, and she has a B.S. and M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She is admitted to practice law in New York.
Andrea Gomez Paz is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Andrea graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s in Latino/Latin American studies and a minor in Sociology. As an undergraduate, she interned at NIJC with the Detention Project and did volunteer work at Borderlinks in Tucson, Arizona. Immigration has always played an important role in Andrea’s life, due to her parents and brothers being Guatemalan immigrants who won their asylum case through NIJC.
Jaime Gonzalez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project’s Legal Protection Fund (LPF). He is a social justice advocate and is passionate about equality and human rights for all, which reflects in his work and commitment to immigrant communities. Immigration has always played an important role in Jaime’s life—due to being the son of Mexican immigrants, both from the state of Oaxaca—and growing up around others of different mixed legal statuses. Jaime graduated from DePaul University in 2020 with a B.A. in Political Science, with a concentration in law & theory, and Latin American & Latino Studies, with a minor in Spanish. Before working at NIJC, Jaime worked for DePaul University’s Department of Latin American & Latino Studies and Center for Latino Research, was a volunteer translator for DePaul’s Translator & Interpreter Corps Program, and did some community organizing surrounding mental health access and access to higher education in his neighborhood—Back of the Yards—located on the southwest side of Chicago.
Rebekah González is a legal supervisor with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Previously, Rebekah was the staff attorney on the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project of LAF. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts in biology and international studies and a minor in psychology. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago. Rebekah graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University College of Law and is admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
Evan Gorelick is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Before joining NIJC in 2021, Evan spent four years at the Florence Project in Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked as a pro bono mentor and a staff attorney working with unaccompanied minors. Evan graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2017, where he concentrated on business and immigration law, as well as coaching the university taekwondo club.
Mike Grunenwald is NIJC's Data Management Specialist. Before joining NIJC, he was a program manager at Pro Bono Net, where he led the state and national probono.net and LawHelp.org programs, working with partners from around the country on technology projects to enhance their capacity to engage and support pro bono volunteers and provide know your rights and legal referral information to vulnerable low income communities. Prior to Pro Bono Net, Mike was the lead on technology projects at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. He received a B.A. summa cum laude in political science and philosophy from the University of Dayton, an M.A. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Olga P. Guerrero is a paralegal for NIJC’s Detention Project. Olga pursued a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Human Rights and graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 2021. On campus, Olga was a student organizer within UChicago United, a student organizing coalition created to demand that the university divest from its private police force and use its multibillion dollar endowment to create an Ethnic Studies department and fund the establishment of community centers for students of color and community members alike. Throughout undergrad and as a Milwaukee native, Olga interned with various organizations such as Milwaukee’s Voces de la Frontera, Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services, and Leaders Igniting Transformation. She also interned remotely for Mil Mujeres Legal Services.
Nayna Gupta is the associate director of policy. Previously, she worked as an immigration defense attorney for the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, where she represented detained and non-detained clients in removal proceedings and on appeals and habeas petitions in federal court. Nayna also worked as a racial justice fellow and staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, where she litigated and engaged in policy-advocacy on education and police brutality. Nayna started her career as a federal law clerk to the Honorable Myron H. Thompson in Montgomery, Alabama and is a graduate of Stanford Law School.
Mary Sameera (Van Houten) Harper is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mary spent several years at Brooklyn Defender Services, where she represented detained and non-detained individuals in removal proceedings through the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project (NYIFUP) and specialized in challenges to detention through the federal courts. Previously, Mary worked as a litigation associate and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Stanford Law School and is licensed in New York and Washington, D.C..
Angela Hernandez is a managing attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project (ILD). In addition to supervising a team of attorneys and paralegals, Angela oversees the Counter-Trafficking Project as well as manages the Citizenship and Post-Asylee/Refugee pro bono projects. Prior to law school, Angela worked at NIJC as a BIA accredited representative where she helped to launch NIJC's current VAWA/U Visa pro bono project. Following law school, Angela returned to NIJC contributing to the Children’s Project and later, leading the Counter-Trafficking Project. Angela has served as the director of the Domestic Violence Program at the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, staff attorney at CARECEN in Los Angeles, and senior staff attorney at The Door’s Legal Services Center in New York. Angela received her B.A. from University of Chicago and her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Gema Hernandez Nava is the Litigation Project Coordinator with NIJC's San Diego Project. After graduating with a BA in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she spent her time advancing immigrant justice at the National Education Association in Washington, DC. She has also worked with several organizations prioritizing human rights and migrant justice, including the Washington Office on Latin America and Boat People SOS in Bangkok, Thailand.
Brittany Herschberger is a legal services coordinator working with the Asylum and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She graduated from Goshen College with a major in biology and secondary education and a minor in Spanish. During college she studied abroad in Guatemala. Prior to joining NIJC, Brittany was a teacher in the Goshen area and a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, where she worked with local English teachers in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program.
Michael Hoyt is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Michael received his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law and his B.A. in international relations and history from Drake University. While in law school, Michael interned at NIJC with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project and the Asylum Project. He also participated in DePaul’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. Prior to law school, Michael was a human rights accompanier with the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) and an AmeriCorps member with Iowa Legal Aid. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Jess Hunter-Bowman is a senior attorney in NIJC's Goshen, Indiana office, and previously served as a Skadden Fellow. He provides direct representation to victims of crime and human trafficking and advocates for victims' access to immigration relief. Before joining NIJC, Jess clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr. Prior to law school, he worked on human rights and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, including ten years based in Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia. Jess is licensed to practice law in Indiana.
Alondra Jara is a paralegal with NIJC's Children's Protection, Asylum, and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects. Prior to NIJC, Alondra worked as an immigration paralegal at Indiana Legal Services - Immigrants' and Language Rights Center. She also worked as a research assistant at the I.U. Public Policy Institute - Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy. She graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. Her capstone research focused on social media's role in the development of identity for descendants of Latinxs. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Brazil and learned community collaboration method from Mebêngôkre teachers. Currently, she works with various grassroots social justice organizations in Indianapolis.
Elizabeth Juarez is the receptionist for NIJC’s office in downtown Chicago. She provides clerical and administrative support services, facilitates scheduling of intake appointments, and manages the reception area.
Olivia Judd is a senior attorney with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, she interned with the International Refugee Assistance Project and with the International Rescue Committee. She earned a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in Global Studies & French. She received her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she worked with the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic and received the 2018 Human Rights Center Award for Outstanding Contribution. She is licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois.
Elizabeth "Libby" Kalmbach Clark is a coordinator with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project. She previously worked as an Accredited Representative with NIJC's Adult Detention Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Elizabeth worked at Annunciation House, an organization that runs migrant shelters in El Paso, Texas. She holds a B.A. in international studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.A. in writing and publishing from DePaul University.
Stacey Kamin is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Stacey practiced in areas including civil litigation, federal civil rights, public interest and pro-bono immigration law. Before attending law school, Stacey was a middle school teacher. She has lived in Colombia, Spain and Turkey. She graduated cum laude from California Western School of Law. Stacey is licensed to practice law in Illinois and California.
Bailey Kendall is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Bailey graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2019, where she studied economics and American studies. Prior to NIJC, Bailey worked at an emergency shelter for migrants and refugees in El Paso, Texas, and served as an AmeriCorps legal rights educator with the Northwest Justice Project in Yakima, Washington.
Colleen Kilbride is a senior attorney with NIJC's Family Integrity Project. Previously, she was a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Colleen was a paralegal at Catholic Charities Legal Services to Immigrants in Milwaukee, where she worked with victims of domestic violence on U visa and VAWA cases. She also worked at Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services in El Paso as a family-based immigration paralegal handling extreme hardship waiver cases and served as an ESL and citizenship instructor. Colleen graduated magna cum laude from Augustana College with a B.A. in Spanish. She received her J.D. with pro bono honors from Georgetown University Law Center and is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Rebecca Kiner is NIJC's Operations Manager. Prior to joining NIJC, Rebecca worked with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust in a number of roles, most recently as the Office Manager and Executive Assistant. Rebecca received her B.A. from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA.
Lisa Koop is NIJC's National Director of Legal Services. She directs NIJC's asylum project, handles federal litigation, and provides representation and supervision in deportation defense matters. Lisa specializes in litigation, policy, and direct services advocacy on behalf of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. Lisa heads NIJC’s Indiana office and is an adjunct professor at Notre Dame Law School. Lisa graduated magna cum laude from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in 2004.
Emma Leither is the Development Associate at NIJC. Prior to joining NIJC, she taught digital literacy programming to formerly incarcerated individuals and East African immigrants at EMERGE, a social services non-profit in Minneapolis. Emma also worked at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Advancement Office, coordinating alumni-giving programs for the Annual Fund. She holds a BA in Economics from Carleton College, where she wrote her thesis on climate-induced migration, exploring the relationship between climate change and immigration flows.
Hannah Levine is a paralegal with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. They previously worked as a paralegal and Avodah Fellow on NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Hannah graduated from Tufts University with degrees in English, Anthropology, and Music. During their time at Tufts, they spent a semester studying in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they collaborated in writing a children's book about domestic adoption as part of the Kids' Books Bolivia series.
Tania Linares Garcia is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Tania served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Granger, Washington. They earned their J.D., magna cum laude, from Southern Illinois University. While in law school, Tania interned with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, the Illinois Innocence Project, and NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative.
Josselin Lopez is the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) Coordinator for NIJC’s Detention Project. Prior to NIJC, Josselin worked as a Lead Family Reunification Specialist with Heartland Alliance’s Unaccompanied Minors program. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2018 from Dominican University with her degree in Psychology and minors in Philosophy, Gender Studies and Health Communication. While at Dominican she interned with the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, The Cities Mentor Project and volunteered as an English Tutor for the West Suburban Action Project.
Nereida Lopez is a staff attorney fellow with NIJC Asylum's Project in the Chicago Office, she is the recipient of the Shaffer Fellowship, her fellowship project focuses on facilitating and advocating for resources on Alternative's to Detention within the asylum system. Nereida graduated from St. John's University, Summa Cum Laude with a double Major in Philosophy and Legal Studies and with a minor in International Studies. Nereida obtained her J.D. from Notre Dame Law School where upon graduation she was the recipient of the David T. Link Award. During Law School she interned at NIJC Indiana Office, and Community Legal Aid SoCal. She was also the co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Vice President of the First-Generation Student Professionals.
Ruben Loyo is the Associate Director of the NIJC Detention Project. He was formerly a senior litigation attorney with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project, and a clinical teaching fellow at Yale Law School, where he worked with students in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and Immigration Legal Services Clinic. From 2012 to 2016, he was a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services in New York City, where he defended clients from deportation and detention as part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), the nation’s first universal representation program for detained immigrants facing deportation. Ruben previously clerked for the Honorable Solomon Oliver, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He is a graduate of NYU School of Law and Georgetown University, and is licensed in New York and New Jersey.
Cynthia Macedo is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A in sociology and minor in anthropology. She previously worked as a Lead Youth Care Worker and culinary point person in the SAFEty department for unaccompanied youth for 7 years.
Jacqueline Mares is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Jacqueline worked with unaccompanied children in the Office of Refugee program care for family reunification purposes/options. Previously, she did some volunteer work at Mujeres Latinas en Accion in the domestic violence and sexual assault program. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Gender & Women Studies. Jacqueline is passionate in helping others through advocacy, empowerment, and equality.
Katie Mayopoulos is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and City Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Katie taught high school Spanish for three years, first with Teach for America in New Orleans and subsequently at Westminster School in Connecticut. Katie graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 2018 with a joint B.A. in Spanish and Sociology/Anthropology and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Mary Meg McCarthy is the executive director of Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), one of the nation’s leading immigrant and human rights advocacy organizations. Under Mary Meg’s leadership, NIJC has become a leading immigrant and human rights advocacy organization, contributing to national and international analysis, debate and reform of immigration law, policy, and practices. She has built a network of 1,500 pro bono attorneys who are essential to providing legal services to thousands of individuals each year. An expert in immigration law, Mary Meg has testified before Congress and is quoted often in major news outlets such as MSNBC, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining NIJC, she practiced civil litigation and was an NIJC pro bono attorney. Earlier in her career she worked in local communities in Chile to help safeguard the rights of individuals under a dictatorship. Mary Meg has been honored with several awards including: American Constitution Society Chicago Lawyer Chapter Ruth Goldman Award (July 2015), Chicago Inn of Court 2015 Don Hubert Public Service Award, Pax Christi 2013 Teacher of Peace Award, and the Damen Award from Loyola University (June 2015).
Matt McGuire is a staff attorney with NIJC's Asylum Project, focusing his work on non-detained unaccompanied children. Prior to joining NIJC, Matt worked in the Human Rights Clinic and Family and Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wyoming College of Law, where he obtained his J.D. Before law school, Matt obtained an M.A. in International Disaster Psychology from Denver, CO and worked with international populations as a trauma therapist and human rights worker.
Katherine "Rin" Meehan is the executive coordinator for NIJC. Previously, she worked in the Illinois Department of Human Service’s Office of Grants Administration. Katherine graduated cum laude from DePaul University in 2017 with a degree in political science, as well as a minor in Spanish.
Viviana Méndez is a Senior Removal Defense Attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Viviana has experience in the immigration field in different capacities since 2006. She started as a legal assistant in a private immigration firm. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from DePaul University, Viviana completed an AmeriCorps volunteer program at the El Paso – Ciudad Juarez border helping survivors of domestic violence and of crime obtain immigration benefits. Viviana attended the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC) where she participated in the immigration clinic. Viviana completed a summer internship in 2010 with NIJC’s detention project. She obtained her law degree from UDC in May 2011. Viviana has been a member of AILA and has been a practicing immigration attorney since November 2011. Prior joining NIJC she was the supervising attorney with the community based organization Erie Neighborhood House. Viviana oversaw the expansion and development of immigration legal services at Erie House’s immigration department for almost seven years. Viviana is barred in the state of Illinois.
Cecilia Mendoza is a compliance and implementation specialist working with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project and Chicago's Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, she was the immigration services coordinator and DOJ Accredited Representative with Family Focus Nuestra Familia in Cicero, Illinois. As an active member of the Cicero Community Collaborative, Cecilia serves on the welcoming committee working towards addressing the needs of the local immigrant community. She earned her Master's in Public Policy from the School of Public Service at DePaul University and her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with minors in Political Science and Hispanic Studies, from Illinois Wesleyan University.
Ellen Miller is the pro bono manager. Prior to this position, Ellen worked in Child and International Protection with the UNHCR throughout Central America. She received her B.A. in International Studies from DePaul University; she also has an M.A. in International Human Rights Law and a post-graduate diploma in Psychosocial Interventions for Forced Migration from the American University in Cairo- Egypt.
Rachel Milos is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Before joining NIJC, Rachel clerked for Judge Bauer of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and worked as a public defender in Colorado, handling juvenile criminal appeals. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University and her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law.
Vivian Millan is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, she represented clients in dissolution of marriage and parentage cases in the Cook County Domestic Relations Division, was a paralegal with Orlando Center for Justice where she worked with victims of domestic violence on VAWA cases and with individuals seeking asylum, and was a legal assistant at a personal injury firm. Vivian graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies. She received her J.D. from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she participated in the school’s family law clinic. Vivian is licensed to practice in Illinois.
Matthew Nelson is a coordinator with NIJC's Federal Litigation Unit. He previously worked as a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. His legal career started in a small practice in Chicago, where he worked as a paralegal in immigration, family, and bankruptcy law. Matthew previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic and completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Brazil. He holds a B.A. in rhetoric studies from Whitman College. Matthew speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and Kyrgyz.
Elizabeth Nisly is a paralegal in NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She works with the Asylum Project and the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Elizabeth graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a B.A. in Spanish and Writing Studies. During her time as an undergrad she worked as an intern with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services in Washington, DC. She also worked as a binational intern with the border ministry Frontera de Cristo in Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, AZ, where she worked in a migrant shelter.
Alejandra Oliva is NIJC's communications coordinator. She graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a Master's in Theological Studies. Before joining NIJC, she volunteered as an interpreter and translator for those applying for asylum with New York's New Sanctuary Coalition, and as a court observer with Boston Immigration Accompaniment Network. Her writing on immigration has previously been published at Zora Mag, Bookforum, Christian Century and Electric Literature.
Karla Olivas works with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Over the course of her Fellowship, Karla will combat increased government delays and prolonged immigration detentions through habeas corpus and mandamus petitions in federal court. Additionally, she will develop materials to train pro bono attorneys unfamiliar with federal court practice related to immigration law. Karla graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a B.A. in art history. During law school she studied at the Irish Centre for Human Rights located at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Karla obtained her J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law and she is licensed to practice law in the state of Iowa.
Brianna Ortega is a paralegal with NIJC's Asylum Project. She graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University Chicago in 2020 with a BA in Global and International Studies and a triple minor in Anthropology, European Studies, and Italian Language and Literature. During her time at Loyola, she interned for NIJC on the Detention Project for two semesters. Prior to joining NIJC as a paralegal, Brianna served as the Project Coordinator for “Proyecto de Esperanza: Mapa Solidaridad” or “Project of Hope: Solidarity Map” which was a project funded by the National Science Foundation. The main purpose of the project was to create a digital map tool of the United States and Mexico full of useful resources, such as medical, housing, and legal aid, for migrants, returnees, and deportees to utilize.
Rosa E. Ortiz de Gasca is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, she was the staff attorney for the Victim Legal Assistance Network at the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services. Before that, Rosa worked at a boutique law firm practicing family based immigration and removal defense. During law school, she gained a variety of immigration law experience as a student attorney at UDM Law's Immigration Law Clinic, a law clerk at the Detroit Immigration Court, and a legal intern at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Rosa earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, a Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and a Bachelor of Arts from DePaul University where she majored in Sociology with a double minor in Latin American and Latino Studies and Spanish.
Alejandra Palacios is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Alejandra was the Fellow at the International Human Rights Clinic at the John Marshall Law School, where she was a clinical instructor and provided direct representation to asylum seekers. Alejandra graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and political science. Alejandra earned her J.D. from the John Marshall Law School and is admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois.
JuanCamilo Parrado is a legal supervisor with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. JuanCamilo previously worked as a staff attorney at World Relief Chicago, where he represented a wide variety of cases including U visas, DACA, and citizenship applications, and managed the legal lead position for the New Americans Initiative at World Relief Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) majoring in French and Psychology. He also attended FSU College of Law, during which time he was a student attorney at the Public Interest Law Center immigration clinic and graduated with a certificate in international law. JuanCamilo was also a legislative assistant with the Florida Senate, where he worked on anti-human trafficking and healthcare legislation. He is barred in New York.
ManoLasya Perepa is a staff attorney with NIJC's Asylum Project, where she represents individuals, children, and families seeking asylum and other relief before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Chicago Immigration Court. Before joining NIJC, her experience was in filing U-Visas and VAWAs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She graduated from the John Marshall Law School, where she previously interned with NIJC. ManoLasya graduated with distinction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in Global Studes, minored in Spanish, and completed a Capstone thesis: Narcotrafficking in Mexico. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Kate Ramos is a managing attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project and City Legal Protection Fund. Kate previously worked as an associate attorney for five years with a private immigration law firm. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 2011 and her B.A. in history and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. During law school, she interned with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and participated in the DePaul University Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. Kate is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Diana Rashid is a managing attorney working with NIJC’s Detention Project. She provides legal representation to detained immigrants in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. As part of NIJC’s Defender Initiative Program, Diana advises federal and state public defenders on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. Diana holds a B.A. in economics and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and obtained her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Diana is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Natalie Reysa is a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2021 with a BA in Political Science and Spanish and a minor in Latino Studies. During undergrad, she volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at a bilingual preschool program in South Bend. Additionally, she helped out with translation/interpretation needs of Notre Dame law students working with NIJC on asylum cases. She also studied in Santiago, Chile for 6 months. Previously, she has worked with asylum and other immigration matters as an intern with Justice For Our Neighbors in Austin, Texas, and worked for MALDEF on policy and litigation advocacy for the Latinx community in the Midwest.
Hillary Richardson is the Managing Attorney of NIJC’s Non-Detained Kids Project, focused on serving unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable immigrant youth. Prior to joining NIJC, Hillary worked in family law at the Legal Assistance Foundation’s Children and Families Practice Group, and served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, Washington, where she provided legal orientation and removal defense for detained adults. Before attending law school, she worked as a paralegal and BIA accredited representative with NIJC’s Adult Detention project. Hillary holds a B.A. from Earlham College and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Rebecca Ries-Roncalli is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense project. Rebecca completed her Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago in 2021, where she specialized in the intersection of gender, religion, and art through Italian Renaissance vernacular poetry. Previously she studied history and Italian at John Carrol University, where she received the Dr. Marian Morton Woman Historians of Greater Cleveland Award in 2018. Rebecca has also volunteered with organizations such as Legal Aid, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s homeless shelter, and US Together refugee resettlement agency.
Paula Roa is a senior attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Paula previously worked as a staff attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice, Children's Team, where she represented unaccompanied children in removal proceedings. Prior to her work with AIJ, she provided direct representation and victims' rights advocacy to survivors of human trafficking, conducting outreach and training to improve early identification of trafficking survivors at Legal Aid Chicago. She received her undergraduate degree cum laude from Loyola University, majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She also attended SIU College of Law, during which she was recognized by the Women's Bar Foundation, participated in the Summer Leadership Institute, ABA Judicial Clerkship Program, and held a summer internship with the Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs.
Mary Roche is the compliance and coordination supervisor for NIJC's Children's Protection Project. Previously, she worked with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project as a BIA-Accredited Representative. Mary graduated with honors from Tulane University in 2007 with a bachelor of arts in Latin American studies and art history. Before coming to NIJC, Mary taught ESL at Poder Learning Center in Chicago. She has also studied and taught in Spain and worked as a citizenship volunteer.
Charles Roth is NIJC's director of appellate litigation. He has appeared in hundreds of appellate matters resulting in more than 60 published Court of Appeals decisions, and has overseen the filing of dozens of amicus briefs at the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals. He was counsel of record in Ali v. Achim, 552 U.S. 1085 (2007) (Mem.) and Machado v. Holder, 130 S.Ct. 1236 (2010). He also has represented immigrant classes in Ramos et al. v. Ashcroft, 08 cv 8266, and Hmaidan v. Ashcroft, 258 F.Supp.2d 832 (N.D.Ill 2003). NIJC commonly litigates in collaboration with pro bono law firms, in which case Charles co-counsels in the case and provides technical and legal support.
Jordyn Rozensky is the Communications Strategist for NIJC's Communications team. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Brandeis University. Before joining the team at NIJC, she worked as a photographer and writer on the US southern border.
Kimberly Ruesch is the Immigration Resource Coordinator on the Detention Project. She has a master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies from DePaul University. She started her career in immigrant education in a public high school before moving to teach in Mexico, France, Spain and Colombia. Additionally she has worked as a refugee and immigrant case manager and began her work at NIJC as a paralegal and pro bono clinic coordinator for naturalization and post-asylee benefits clinics.
Nora Salgado is a Senior Attorney with NIJC’s Non-Detained Kids Project and provides legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable immigrant youth. Prior to joining NIJC, Nora worked in private practice exclusively in the area of immigration and nationality law. During law school, she worked as a BIA Accredited representative with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project. She earned her J.D. at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School and is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Lizbeth Sanchez is a pro bono coordinator with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from DePaul University with a B.A. in Latin American and Latinx studies and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. While at DePaul, she worked with Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TECP) in Chicago's Little Village area, coordinating programs and events to engage youth. After graduating, she worked as a Community Outreach Coordinator/Paralegal with Mil Mujeres Legal Services in Chicago. While a student at DePaul, her research was published in 2015 and in 2016 for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences' Creating Knowledge journal, on the subjects of the mobilization of mothers during the 1980s civil war in Nicaragua as well as on the politics in the U.S. of protecting asylum seekers victimized by domestic violence.
Eva Shapiro is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She studied political science at UC Berkeley and graduated in 2020. Before coming to NIJC, she worked helping people become citizens in her hometown of Washington, DC.
Anna Sheridan is a pro bono coordinator with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Anna worked as a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project ,and as a paralegal for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. She received her B.A. in International Economics with Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. While in college, Anna volunteered as an ESL teacher with La Casa de Amistad and worked as a legal assistant for a law firm that specialized in immigration, criminal defense, and family law.
Beatriz Schaver Eizaguirre is a pro bono project coordinator with NIJC's Asylum Project, and previously worked as a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Bea is from Madrid, Spain. She graduated in 2019 from the University of Chicago with honors in public policy with a specialization in human rights. She has previously worked with the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic in Chicago, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, and CASA of Cook County.
Marie Silver is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project, where she represents unaccompanied immigrant children in their removal proceedings and applications for relief. Marie received a B.S. in Spanish and a B.A. in communications from Northwestern University, and she graduated magna cum laude from DePaul University College of Law. While a law student, Marie interned at NIJC with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, and at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She also participated in the DePaul Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic and the Human Rights Practicum in Chiapas, Mexico. Prior to law school, Marie worked as a senior case manager in the Heartland Alliance shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children and interned with the American Red Cross.
Amanda Crews Slezak is a supervising attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project, where she represents adults, children, and families seeking asylum and other relief before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Chicago Immigration Court. She was previously a supervisor with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Amanda graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law where she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow. Prior to law school, Amanda spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde working in education and community development. She received her Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Baylor University.
Stephanie Spiro is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Previously, she was a staff attorney and then supervising attorney with the Central American Resource Center's Deportation Defense Unit. Stephanie graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Hispanic Studies and Sociology and received her M.A. in Trauma Studies from Tel Aviv University. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Stephanie served as the Executive Comments Editor of the Chicago Journal of International Law and as a Child Advocate with the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. She was awarded the Edward F. Mandel Award for her contribution to the Law School's clinical education program. Stephanie has volunteered and worked with immigrant rights organizations in Boston, Los Angeles, Madrid, Tel Aviv, and Chicago.
Lynn Stopher is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Lynn graduated from Vanderbilt Law School, where she received the Bennett Douglas Bell Memorial Award. During law school, she interned with NIJC, TN Justice for our Neighbors, and Human Rights Watch. Before attending law school, Lynn worked as an educator in Colombia and with immigrant populations in the greater Boston area. She holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Lynn is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Karolyn Talbert, associate director of legal services, provides leadership to NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and NIJC’s Self Help Desk at the Immigration Court. She provides legal representation to immigrants in removal proceedings and in applications for immigration benefits. As a former Equal Justice Works Fellow, Karolyn specialized in representing immigrant victims of notary fraud. Karolyn is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a frequent presenter on immigration law. Before joining NIJC, she was the attorney advisor for the Immigration Court in Chicago. Karolyn is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Trisha K. Teofilo Olave is a senior legal supervisor for NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project. Prior to joining NIJC, Trisha was a BIA-Accredited representative at World Relief-Chicago and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. While at Catholic Charities, she supervised the Crime Victims Program, was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) coordinator and the pro bono coordinator. Trisha also worked as the senior legal assistant for a private immigration firm. She has participated in the VAWA/U Visa collaborative in Chicago since 2005. Trisha graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago with an honors bachelor of arts degree in political science and minors in Spanish and international studies.
Sarah Thompson is a senior litigation attorney for NIJC's San Diego Project, where she supports NIJC's litigation work on behalf of people caught at the intersection of the federal criminal and immigration systems on the border. Before coming to NIJC, Sarah worked as a Border Litigation Fellow at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. She is a graduate of NYU School of Law where she participated in NYU's Immigrant Rights Clinic, representing noncitizens in removal defense cases while also supporting the clinic's habeas and FOIA work. While in law school, Sarah also did workers' rights advocacy through the Peggy Browning Fund. Sarah has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and is licensed to practice law in California.
Tara Tidwell Cullen is NIJC's director of communications. She leads NIJC's communications strategy and content development and works with the news media to tell stories about the need for fair and humane immigration laws. She helped launch and co-authored the inaugural reports for NIJC's Immigration Detention Transparency and Human Rights Project, which monitors the Department of Homeland Security's immigration detention contracting and inspections system. She regularly contributes to research, reporting, and messaging and narrative development about the need to dismantle the immigration detention system and decriminalize migration. Tara previously was the managing editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly.
Julia Toepfer is NIJC's senior marketing and digital engagement strategist. Julia has more than 10 years of experience working in nonprofit communications, management, and fundraising for organizations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. She has provided training and consulting services for nonprofits, unions, and organizations to strengthen their social media channels and develop impactful online campaigns. Prior to joining NIJC, Julia was a legal assistant for an immigration law firm in Boston, worked on a collaborative campaign to achieve in-state college tuition for immigrant students in Massachusetts, and worked on advancing human rights in Guatemala with the Chicago-based Health, Education and Relief Foundation. Julia attended Boston College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin American studies.
Lee VanderLinden is a supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lee graduated with a degree in politics from Princeton University and obtained their J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. While in law school, they interned with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Irish International Immigrant Center, the People’s Law Office, and NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lee is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Daniela Velez-Clucas is a supervising attorney with the Children's Protection Project. Previously, Daniela was the Restorative Justice Project Coordinator at the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School. She has a background in criminal law and restorative justice. She earned her J.D. at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School where she participated in the International Human Rights Clinic and interned at the Federal Defender Program. Daniela is licensed to practice in the state of Illinois.
Isabel Weber is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Isabel graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 2020, where she majored in English and earned minors in Anthropology and Gender Studies. As an undergraduate, she was a Spanish gallery teacher at the Snite Museum of Art, leading tours and discussions about art from Spain and Latin America in Spanish. Prior to NIJC, Isabel served as an AmeriCorps educator in South Bend, Indiana with the Robinson Community Learning Center. In this position, she organized afterschool English literacy tutoring and supplemental arts programing for underserved students, the vast majority of whom came from Spanish-speaking immigrant families.
Mayon Yen is the director of development for NIJC. Previously, Mayon was a program development manager with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, where she was responsible for nearly $18 million in public and private grants throughout their life cycle. Mayon has also worked in development and evaluation in the social services sector in Los Angeles, where she supported HIV, case management, and mental health services for low-income immigrant communities. Mayon received her Master of Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles and her BA from the University of Chicago.
Keren Zwick is NIJC’s director of litigation, and she works closely with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Keren is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) and the current co-chair of the litigation committee of the Chicago chapter. Keren’s litigation is focused on asylum and protection based claims, largely for detained individuals. She has represented petitioners in dozens of cases before the United States Courts of Appeals, and filed amicus briefs in many others, focusing on applicants for protection whose claims are based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and mental health. She has also led NIJC’s efforts to preserve access to asylum, arguing in favor of access to asylum for individuals with prior removal orders and co-counseling with other organizations in challenges to regulatory bans seeking to limit access to the asylum process. Keren joined NIJC after clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. While Keren was a law student at Columbia Law School, she successfully represented clients in the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic in both immigration and civil rights matters. Before law school, Keren attended the University of Chicago and worked as NIJC’s asylum project coordinator. Keren is licensed to practice law in Illinois.