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.
Olivia Abrecht is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow with NIJC's Detention Project. Olivia graduated from New York University School of Law in 2022. During law school she was a student advocate in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, and she interned with the MacArthur Justice Center and Just Futures Law. Before law school, she worked in Chicago at the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council as a youth organizer for four years. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American studies.
Brianna Aceves is a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. She graduated from Princeton University in 2022 with a degree in Spanish and Portuguese with a focus in Politics. During her time at Princeton, she interned with Mabel Center for Immigrant Justice in Boston and wrote her Senior Thesis on the criminalization of asylum seekers in the United States during the Trump and Biden administrations.
Lizeth Aguilar is a paralegal in NIJC’s Indianapolis office where she works on the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project, Asylum Project, and Immigrant Legal Defense teams. She graduated magna cum laude from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2021 with a BA in Sociology, where she did research on the effect of gender and class on assimilation in the U.S. among second generation Mexican-Americans. During undergrad, she volunteered as a Spanish interpreter/translator for different organizations and interned at Exodus Refugee Immigration in Indianapolis. As an Indianapolis native and a daughter of Mexican immigrants, she is passionate about making immigration legal services more accessible for her community.
Anthony Alcivar is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Anthony earned his J.D. at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where he served as an Articles Editor on the Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality. While in law school, he worked as an Immigrant Justice Intern at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis, and as a Public Service Intern for the Mayor of Atlanta's Office of Immigrant Affairs. After law school, Anthony worked as a staff attorney for the Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General, investigating mismanagement and fraud within the district. Anthony is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
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.
Brianda Avila is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Brianda graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s in Human Resource Development with a double minor in Communication and Management. Prior joining NIJC, Brianda worked for 5 years with immigrant families and children in a Non-profit school that support families and their children thrive in education, workplace and life. She has volunteer with different organizations around her community advocating for immigrant resources. As a leader of Albany Park Community, she participated in town hold assembles informing the community about what Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is. She has also volunteered at her community church to teach adult people the use of new technology tools such as basic computer use skills, Google Apps, and Zoom App. The most recent organization she has volunteered for is Chicago Cares.
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.
Demetrius Bonafide is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving a year term at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago Illinois. Service includes Pro Bono Data Coordinator projects. Demetrius completed undergraduate studies at Tennessee State University is Nashville, TN. Demetrius also complete a Certification in Nonprofit Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago which included courses in management, operations, grant writing, and leadership board governance. Prior to onboarding at NIJC, Demetrius served with TRiO /Upward Bound Programs in the state of Montana.
Mara Weaver Boshart is the Immigration Court Help Desk Coordinator for NIJC’s Asylum Project, supporting individuals and families who are unrepresented in removal proceedings and the Asylum Merits Interview process. Mara is a DOJ fully accredited representative, and she has previously worked as a paralegal with the Asylum, Immigrant Legal Defense, Non-Detained Kids, and VAWA/U Visa teams at NIJC’s Goshen office and as a DOJ fully-accredited representative at Project Hope-Proyecto Esperanza in Northwest Ohio. Mara has lived and worked with migrants in Mexico City and studied in Peru. Mara holds a Master of Divinity in History, Theology, and Ethics from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and a B.A. in History and Secondary Education, with a minor in Spanish, from Goshen College.
Jess Hunter-Bowman is a senior attorney in NIJC's Goshen, Indiana office. He provides direct representation to asylum-seekers, victims of crime and human trafficking, and individuals in removal proceedings. Jess also litigates immigration cases in federal court. He previously served as a Skadden Fellow at NIJC. 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.
Madeline Brashear is a Schreiber Fellow with NIJC’s LGBTQ Project. Madeline graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2022, where she participated with the Immigration Detention Project and interned with the Los Angeles LGBT Center Immigrant Rights Project. She holds a BA in History and an MA in War and Society from Chapman University.
Richard Caldarone is a Senior Litigation Attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project. Before joining NIJC, Richard worked as Senior Litigation Counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center, where he coordinated appeals on behalf of survivors of gender-based violence and several challenges to anti-asylum policies. Richard previously clerked for Judge Louis H. Pollak of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Carla Castellanos is a Paralegal on the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at NIJC. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, class of 2023, where she was part of organizations such as I-Cause which help undocumented and DACA students navigate college life and IGNITE, an organization that empowers young women to run for political office. Before attending UIUC she was a community college student at Morton College located in Cicero, IL where she was also part of IGNITE and was the Treasurer of the Student Government Association. During her first years in college she was a legal intern at the Resurrection Project located in the Pilsen area of Chicago where her interest started to help the immigrant community.
Geoff Cebula is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Before joining NIJC, he worked as an immigration and criminal defense attorney with the Monterrosa Law Group in South Bend, Indiana. As a law student, Geoff interned with the NIJC Goshen office, the Monterrosa Law Group, and Kurzban Kurzban Tetzeli and Pratt, and represented tenants with the Notre Dame Economic Justice Clinic. He is licensed to practice law in Indiana.
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.
Solomon Colllins graduated from Loyola University Chicago where he majored in Economics, International Studies and Multimedia Journalism while volunteering as a peer mentor for first-generation and DACA students. He also formed a single-member LLC to provide media production services to organizations like StartUp Health, Ignatian Volunteer Corps and local small business owners. Solomon also volunteers as a podcast producer to help budding nonprofit brands and entrepreneurs. He is ecstatic to be a new part of NIJC's Communications team and community
Colleen Cowgill is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC’s San Diego Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Colleen was the pro bono coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network’s (RMIAN’s) detention program. In this role, she worked to connect individuals in immigration detention with no cost representation, while also providing mentorship and other support. Previously, Colleen worked at Catholic Charities providing direct representation to individuals in removal proceedings in Southern California and as a fellow at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Washington, DC. Colleen is a graduate of the University of California-Irvine and Cornell Law School. She is licensed to practice in California and New York.
Landon Davison is a paralegal on the PILS team, based out of Indianapolis. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, where he was engaged in Civic Leaders, Model United Nations, and riding in the Little 500 while earning his B.S. in International Studies and Portuguese. He has previously worked as a Designated School Official in international student affairs at Arizona State. While in Phoenix, he volunteered at the International Rescue Committee’s Welcome Center serving folks immediately after their release from ICE custody.
Ashley Tarbet DeStefano is the data management specialist at NIJC based in Boston, MA. Ashley previously served as a project manager with The Capacity Collective and as assistant director for community engagement in the Elma Lewis Center. They earned their M.S. in Critical Ethnic and Community Studies from University of Massachusetts Boston and their B.S. in Political Communications from Emerson College. Ashley is a community organizer working at the intersections of immigrant justice and prison abolition. They believe that when we ground our work in the principles of solidarity praxis and emergent strategy, data can serve to challenge power and uplift community.
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.
Morgan Drake is a staff attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow funded by the Ebb Point Foundation. Morgan works with NIJC’s Litigation Team to provide appellate representation to clients whose cases raise due process issues. Morgan is a recent graduate of DePaul University College of Law, where, via DePaul’s International Human Rights Law Practicum, she had the privilege of co-writing and presenting an Amicus Brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights arguing for differentiated approaches to detention for particularly vulnerable groups across the Americas. Prior to law school, Morgan represented unaccompanied minors in front of DHS and the Chicago Asylum Office as a DOJ Accredited Representative with NIJC’s Children’s Protection Project. Morgan holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Spanish from Augustana College.
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 and youth in secure ORR custody from deportation. Azadeh leads NIJC's response to proposed regulations, 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.
Yolatli Esparza is a paralegal with the Non-Detained Kids Project. Yolatli graduated cum laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2022, where she double majored in Political Science and Psychology. As an undergraduate, she began working in Family Law at the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic to help provide legal assistant to low-income families, and later was given the opportunity to work as Congressional Intern at the Office of Senator Ricard J. Durbin.
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. He 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, Dave advises federal and state public defenders on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. 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.
Jherlly Acosta Fecher is a paralegal with NIJC's Goshen, Indiana office. At her current role, she provides aid to the Asylum Project and ILD team. Jherlly attended Law School at UNMSM in Lima, Peru; where she was born. In 2015, she moved to the United States to be with her now husband, which has helped her understand the struggle of being an immigrant as she learned to navigate the laws and processes of immigration herself. Previously to join NIJC, Jherlly worked for La Casa de Amistad in South Bend, IN as an immigration counselor and accredited representative.
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.
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. He has provided technical expertise in the drafting and passage of multiple immigration “sanctuary laws” nationwide, as well as laws that limit local governments and private prison companies from contracting to perform immigration detention. NIJC’s work on enforcement issues was recognized with the 2014 Daniel Levy Award of the National Immigration Project. Mr. Fleming has been quoted in various national media outlets and appeared in a PBS FRONTLINE documentary on ICE enforcement and detention.
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.
Aneesha Gandhi is the associate director of NIJC's Protection-Based Relief Project, where she oversees both NIJC’s Asylum Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. She has led NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative since 2019 and been part of that project since 2013. Apart from overseeing NIJC’s protection-based projects, she provides representation to noncitizens seeking asylum, and other types of immigration relief before USCIS, the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals and advises pro bono attorneys representing asylum seekers through NIJC. 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. 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.
Francisco Garcia serves as a paralegal within the Detention Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). He holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in Hispanic Studies, graduating with honors from Oberlin College, where he was a recipient of the Posse Scholarship program. At El Centro de Servicos Sociales, he assumed board responsibilities for grant writing and fundraising initiatives, and also volunteered as a class instructor. Francisco pursued internships during his academic breaks, supporting Congressman Chuy Garcia in both his Washington, D.C. office and his district offices in Chicago.
Oscar Gracia is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Oscar received a B.S. in Political Science with a minor in History from the Florida State University in the fall of 2016. In 2021, he received a J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law. During law school, Oscar interned with the NIJC’s Illinois Legal Defense Project. While at FSU, Oscar was a board member of L.E.O.N.E.S., a student-led organization dedicated to providing mentorship and tutoring services to immigrant children in Leon County, Florida. Oscar is licensed in the state of Illinois.
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.
Allison Gilroy is an Immigrant Justice Fellow with the NIJC Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Tulane University School of Law, where she spent a semester at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Along with her JD, she received a certificate in International and Comparative Law. During law school, Allison worked at CrescentCare, where she helped medically-complex minors gain Special Immigrant-Juvenile Status (SIJS), and at Catholic Charities, where she worked with asylees, minors seeking SIJS, and others seeking forms of humanitarian relief. She is licensed to practice law in Oregon.
Abigail Ginzburg is a project manager with NIJC’s Detention Unit. She previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosovo and an AmeriCorps VISTA in Utah’s Refugee Services Office. She holds a BA in Russian Studies from the University of Chicago and an MGA in Refugee and Immigration Policy from the Keough School of Global Affairs.
Alejandro Gomez is the Social Services Coordinator with the NIJC Detention project. Before Joining NIJC he was a Community Health Worker for Esperanza Health Centers on the south side of Chicago. Before Esperanza, he studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago and received his B.A in Integrated Health Studies.
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.
Juan Gonzalez Martinez is a Schreiber Fellow with the Detention Project. Juan graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2023, where he participated in various immigration related projects such as going to Texas to observe human rights abuses committed by the US government at the southern border and also helping people being bussed to Chicago by Texas’ tyrant, Greg Abbott. Before graduating law school, Juan obtained his bachelors in Sociology from Wayne State University and volunteered with various immigration organizations who advocated for immigrant rights
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.
Lourdes Gracia is the LPF Compliance and Implementation Specialist working with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project and Chicago's Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked as a Service Coordinator with Early Intervention for three years. She obtained her Bachelors of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago and her Masters of Public Administration with a focus on Public Policy from Texas A&M University.
Eric Grossmann is a staff attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Eric’s interest in human rights began as an intern with the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Prior to joining NIJC, Eric worked in private practice representing criminal defendants and family law litigants in state and federal court. Eric received his B.A. in Spanish from Indiana University and J.D. from New York Law School, receiving the Lung-Chu Chen Award for Excellence in the Field of Human Rights upon commencement. He is licensed in New York.
Mike Grunenwald is NIJC's Director of Data and Systems Management. Before joining NIJC in 2019, 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.
Lina Habib is the development associate. She holds a master’s degree in international affairs and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marquette University. Following her graduation from graduate school, she completed an internship in Amman, Jordan at the headquarters of UNRWA, a UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank. During college, she completed a congressional internship at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. as well as internships at nonprofits in Milwaukee that assist refugees and immigrants.
Cecille Harris is a staff attorney with the Pro Bono Asylum Project. Previously, she was an Assistant Attorney General with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and Assistant General Counsel for USOU, an online university. In addition, she worked as a program and volunteer manager with nonprofit organizations in Colorado, California, and Ohio. She has provided pro-bono assistance at Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) in Denver, and with Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS) in Chicago. Cecille received her BA from Miami University in Ohio, and obtained her JD from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. As a law student, she co-founded the school’s Asian-Pacific American Law Student Association, interned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and worked as a law clerk for the Democratic National Committee. She is licensed to practice law in Ohio.
Lili Henkel is a pro bono coordinator with the Asylum Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Lili served as a University English Teaching Assistant through a Fulbright grant in Spain. During her time as an undergraduate at Occidental College, Lili interned as a law clerk for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She has a BA in Sociology with a minor in Critical Theory and Social Justice.
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 supervising 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.
Diana Ibarra is a Litigation Coordinator. Before joining NIJC, she was a legal assistant for Kemspter, Corcoran, Quiceno & Lenz-Calvo, an immigration law firm. Diana primarily worked on family-based cases for consular processing. Her background during undergraduate years also involved working with non-profits such as the Illinois Innocence Project while obtaining her BA in Political Science and BA in Legal Studies.
Brandon Jaimes is a paralegal with NIJC’s Counter Trafficking Project. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, Brandon spent time working with immigrant rights groups such as the Immigration Institute of the Bay Area and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. In these positions Brandon assisted with intake, translation, and interpretation for immigrants seeking asylum as well as citizenship. Brandon graduated from Stanford in 2022 with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Urban Studies.
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 the managing attorney for NIJC’s LGBTQ and asylum pro bono projects. 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.
Marwa Jumma is a staff attorney with the Detention team. Marwa previously worked at a private firm and has extensive experience in removal defense with emphasis on Asylum, Withholding of removal and Relief under the Convention Against Torture. Marwa has successfully tried numerous cases before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2016, Marwa first came to the United States under the 100 Syrian Women, 10,000 Syrian Lives Jusoor Award, which was granted to only fifteen Syrian women to pursue their education in the U.S and Canada. Marwa earned her Bachelor’s in Law from Damascus University of Law and worked as an attorney at the prestigious law firm of Youssef Jumma with her father in Damascus, Syria where she focused her practice in civil law matters. Marwa was awarded full academic scholarships and earned both her Master’s degree in U.S International and Transnational law and Juris Doctorate degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. Marwa is licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
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 supervising 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.
Nadia Khawja is NIJC's executive coordinator. She graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University with a degree in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution, and Islamic World Studies. Working alongside the executive director, Nadia ensures that the staff have the necessary support and resources. Prior to NIJC, Nadia was the intern for Refugee Action Network, the largest refugee organization coalition in Illinois.
Colleen Kilbride is a supervising attorney for the Immigrant Children's Protection Project at NIJC. The project provides free legal services and representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, both detained and released, in their removal proceedings and applications for status. She was previously a senior attorney on NIJC's in-house asylum team where she specialized in representing formerly separated families seeking asylum and newly arrived asylum seekers. Prior to law school, Colleen worked as immigration paralegal at non-profits in Milwaukee and El Paso. While attending law school at night, Colleen worked in the organized labor movement. Colleen graduated with pro bono honors from Georgetown University Law Center and is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
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.
Liz Lang is a human resources/operations professional serving as NIJC’s Operations Manager. She has more than 15 years of experience in the legal industry and is passionate about employee relations, benefits, and office operations. Liz graduated from Loyola University with a major in Management and holds PHR and SHRM-CP certifications.
Tania Linares Garcia is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project. Their work is focused on appellate litigation before federal circuit courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Through that work, Tania engages in challenges to detention through habeas litigation before district courts across the country. Prior to joining NIJC, Tania worked as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, where they focused on removal defense. 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.
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 U-Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Coordinator with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Jacqueline worked with unaccompanied children in custody under the Office of Refugee Resettlement as a Youth Care Worker then as a Family Reunification Specialist. In both these roles, Jacqueline provided care, support, reunified unaccompanied children with their family in the U.S. and assessed further placement options. She was a volunteer with Mujeres Latinas en Accion conducting intakes for new clients who suffered domestic violence. Jacqueline graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Gender & Women Studies.
Erin Shea Martin is a paralegal at the National Immigrant Justice Center. Prior to working with NIJC, she worked in immigrant and refugee services in the US, Turkey, and Jordan. She holds an M.Phil. in Contextual Theology from Trinity College Dublin and is a shiatsu massage practitioner. At NIJC and other organizations, Erin focused on supporting staff wellbeing during trauma exposure through body-based techniques.
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).
Katie McCoy is a Schreiber fellow staff attorney with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Katie graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she worked in the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic and interned with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. Prior to law school, she was a senior paralegal with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), where she represented detained unaccompanied and forcibly separated noncitizen children. She is licensed to practice in Illinois.
Matt McGuire (he/they) is a senior attorney with NIJC's Asylum Project. Matt obtained a JD at the University of Wyoming where they worked in the Human Rights Clinic and Family and Immigrant Justice Clinic. Before law school, Matt obtained an M.A. in International Disaster Psychology from the University of Denver. He worked in Haiti, Nepal, Denver, CO, and Appalachia as a trauma therapist and human rights worker. Matt decided to attend law school to learn how to combat and dismantle modern day slavery, capitalism, white supremacy, and imperialism.
Dominique Mejia is a staff attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by United Airlines, Inc. and Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Dominique is on the Non-Detained Kids Project, focusing on serving unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable immigrant youth. Before attending law school, she worked as a paralegal and Department of Justice Accredited Representative with NIJC’s Asylum project, representing clients in front of the Chicago Asylum office and USCIS. Dominique holds a B.A. in Sociology from Northwestern University and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. While in undergrad, Dominique worked at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
Judith Mencía is a Litigation Coordinator with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project. Before joining NIJC, she was a legal assistant for an immigration law firm working with vulnerable populations including asylees, VAWA applicants, U-Visa applicants, and more. Her background is in Social Work having interned at organizations such as World Relief and HOME International. She is currently pursuing a JD at Loyola University.
Cecilia Mendoza is a Legal Supervisor with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD) project and is an Accredited Representative (partial) through the Department of Justice. She also manages the Naturalization Pro Bono Project. Previously, Cecilia was the compliance and implementation specialist for the City Legal Protection Fund within the ILD project. Prior to joining NIJC, she was the immigration services coordinator and a DOJ Accredited Representative with Family Focus Nuestra Familia in Cicero, Illinois. She earned her Master's in Public Policy from the School of Public Service at DePaul University and earned 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.
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.
Andrea Moya is a paralegal in the Goshen office, working for the Asylum Project and the Immigrant Legal Defense team. Andrea has worked in the areas of peacebuilding and political advocacy in her home country of Colombia. She has also worked as a professor at the undergraduate and graduate level teaching courses in the fields of sociology, peacebuilding, and psychology. Andrea holds a BA in Sociology, a BS in Social Work, and an MA in Conflict Transformation.
Abigail Nyberg is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at NIJC. Abigail graduated from New York University School of Law in 2023. During law school, Abigail served as the co-chair of the Immigrant Rights Project, participated in the Immigrant Defense Clinic, and completed internships with Catholic Charities, the Legal Aid Society, Oasis Legal Services, and CLINIC. Prior to law school, Abigail served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, teaching English to students from grades five to seven, and worked as a legal assistant with a boutique immigration law firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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.
Jessica Oswald is a Schreiber Fellow with NIJC's Counter-Trafficking Project. Jessica graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2023. She was a clinical law student in the Immigrant Justice Clinic and interned with Legal Action of Wisconsin's Farmworker Project. She earned her B.S. in environmental geography with minors in Spanish and political science from Ohio University. She is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Laura Pachon is a project coordinator for the Recent Arrivals Project in the Asylum team. Laura studied at Rollins College where she received her B.A. in International Relations with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She then continued her education and received her Master's of Science degree in Refugee and Forced Migration at DePaul University. Prior to working at NIJC Laura has worked in human rights advocacy with her undergraduate Amnesty International student organization; and supporting the Center for Latino Research and the Latin American & Latino Studies Department at DePaul.
David Ruiz-Padilla is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Detention Project. David received his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law and a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. While in law school, David interned with NIJC’s Detention Project and the Cook County’s Public Defender’s Office. He also participated in DePaul’s Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Fernando Hernandez Paredes is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project with experience in criminal defense, and civil litigation. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. During his time there, he served as the Latinx Law Student Association President and co-founded the Castillo Scholars Mentorship Program that aims to help people of color, students of limited means, and first generation law students achieve their dream of law school admissions. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Minnesota.
JuanCamilo Parrado is a managing attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. He represents clients before EOIR, USCIS, and the U.S. Department of State on family and humanitarian immigration matters. JuanCamilo also manages the Immigration Court Helpdesk, which provides orientation services to pro se respondents. JuanCamilo is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, where he graduated with a certificate in international law. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from the Florida State University, having majored in French and Psychology. Prior to working at NIJC, he also worked as a staff attorney at World Relief Chicago, a legislative assistant with the Florida Senate, and a Public Interest Law student attorney at the Florida State University.
Andrew Patterson is an Immigrant Justice Corps fellow and a staff attorney on the Detention Project. He previously worked as a clerk for the Honorable John J. Tharp at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. During law school, he participated in the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, representing clients in removal proceedings. Before law school, he served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps for five years. He received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2020 and an A.B. from the University of Chicago in 2011. Andrew is licensed to practice in Illinois.
Ruthie Pebror is a staff attorney with the Asylum and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects at NIJC’s Indianapolis office. Before joining NIJC, Ruthie was a staff attorney at Legal Services in Indiana and Vermont, where she represented tenants facing eviction and termination from subsidized housing. She also served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. Ruthie graduated from Stanford Law School and Dartmouth College, and is licensed to practice in Indiana, Illinois, and Vermont.
Lenin M. Plazas is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. He studied political science and history at DePaul University and graduated in 2022, becoming the first member of his family to receive a college education. Before coming to NIJC, he interned for U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth and was a representative for Mandate Democracy.
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.
Julie Anne Rich is a staff attorney for NIJC’s pro bono Asylum Team. For many years she served as a Supreme Court Commissioner for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Prior to that she was in private practice at Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Minneapolis, and clerked for the Honorable Edward C. Stringer, Minnesota Supreme Court. She received her J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she was an articles editor for the Journal of Law & Inequality. She received a B.S. in Geology & Geophysics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Julie is admitted to practice law in Minnesota (inactive), Wisconsin and Iowa (pending).
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 DOJ Accredited Representative and DACA pro bono coordinator 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.
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.
Lisiann Rodriguez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s in-house asylum team. Lisiann holds a J.D. from UIC Law School and a B.A. in Medical Humanities from Baylor University. While in law school, she cultivated a passion for human rights legal work in her experiences as an intern at the Cook County Public Defender’s Post Convictions office, a clinician at the UIC Law School Human Rights Clinic, and a law clerk at an immigration firm in Florida. Lisiann is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
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.
Niki Iman Saleh is a Gallogly Family Foundation Fellow with NIJC's Detention Project, where she is working on a language access project. Niki graduated from the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) in May 2023. Throughout law school, she was a student attorney at WCL's Immigrant Justice Clinic and International Human Rights Clinic, and she interned at the National Immigrant Law Center and the Garfield Law Group. Prior to law school she graduated with her BA in Political Science from the University of Washington. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants herself, Niki is a passionate advocate for upholding, reforming, and protecting immigrant rights.
Berenice Sanchez Ruiz is the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Pro Bono Coordinator for NIJC’s Non-Detained Kids Project. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2019 with a B.A. in Sociology with a focus in social justice. Graduating from Loyola, she began working with private law firms as a paralegal serving the immigrant population on the south side of Chicago. Before transitioning to her coordinator position, she was the paralegal for the Non-detained kids project where she served unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable youth in removal proceedings.
Monica Saavedra is a paralegal with the Adult Detention Project. Monica graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a dual bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Spanish. There, Monica volunteered with La Linea – an organization that helps connect the immigrant community with no cost/low cost services in the area. Monica was inspired to attend law school after volunteering with the immigrant community in Champaign County. Monica attended DePaul University College of Law and graduated in 2022 with a juris doctor.
Theodora (Dora) Saclarides is a Project Coordinator with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. She has a B.A and M.A. in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies from Vanderbilt University. In 2016 Dora was a Fulbright fellow in Brazil and worked with the U.S. Department of State's advising center EducationUSA. Upon her return to the United States, she initiated Tennessee’s first free Spanish Adult Education Program at the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Prior to her work at NIJC, Dora interned as a researcher at the Brazil Institute in Washington D.C. where she published articles on education reform, deforestation, and emerging political leaders in Brazil. Dora has been at NIJC since 2018 and continues to teach continuing education classes through the Borough of Manhattan Community Colleges.
Benjamin Saper is a senior attorney on the NIJC Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. The project provides free legal services and representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, both detained and released, in their removal proceedings and applications for status. He was previously a senior attorney at Catholic Charities of New Orleans, where he specialized in representing undocumented minors seeking asylum, SIJS, and other humanitarian immigration relief. Benjamin previously clerked for the Honorable Sarah Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He is a graduate of NYU School of Law and Brown University, and is licensed in New York and Louisiana.
Ely Salgado graduated in 2021 from the University of Maryland (UMD) with her Master’s degree in Public Policy. During her time at UMD, she was a graduate assistant in the department of Student Affairs where she advocated and supported undocumented students by assisting with programming and policy newsletters that relevant to immigration policy. She also aided a faculty member with research around immigration policy and the effectiveness of advocacy by non-profit organizations. Ely served as Vice President of Financial Affairs for the graduate student government where she advocated for equity of distribution of funds for graduate students. Ely obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Sociology from Northeastern Illinois University. She worked for the school’s Multicultural Center where she engaged students in programming designed for minority groups that guide students navigate Higher Education. At the same time, she assisted in local Chicago politics and interned at non-profit organizations in the Southside of Chicago.
Meghan Scholnick is a staff attorney for the Immigrant Children's Protection Project at NIJC. Meghan received a B.S. in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She also holds a Master of Arts in Teaching with Certification from Aurora University with endorsements in English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education from National Louis University. She graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. While a law student, Meghan interned at NIJC with the Detention Project and participated in the Loyola Immigration Practicum at the U.S. - Mexico border. Additionally, Meghan worked on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
Christopher Scott is a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. In 2018, he graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in Political Science and Spanish (double major), focusing on US and Latin American politics. As an undergrad, Chris interned for two summers with UNAM Chicago, tutored Latino youth at La Casa de Amistad for a semester, and became fluent in Spanish. These experiences, among others, fueled his interest in US immigration policy both in general and as it relates to Latin America. After graduation, Chris volunteered as an On-Call Legal Interpreter, and soon after interned, with Immigration Legal Services at Catholic Charities DC, where he assisted immigration attorneys and clients with a variety of cases, often providing Spanish-English interpretation and translation services.
Freskida Sejdiu is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Freskida graduated from Northwestern University in June 2023, with a B.S. in Education and Social Policy, a certificate in Civic Engagement, and a minor in Legal Studies. Before joining NIJC, she interned for the Orders of Protection division of Ascend Justice and worked to provide educational support to migrant students at Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America.
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.
Marie Silver is managing attorney for the Immigrant Children's Protection Project at NIJC. The project provides free legal services and representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, both detained and released, in their removal proceedings and applications for status. Marie co-manages the project and continues to represent unaccompanied children in applications for asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, T visa applications, and more. 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 Clinic and the Human Rights Practicum in Chiapas, Mexico.
Morgan Simon is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 2023 with a BA in Public Policy and a specialization in Health and the Environment. During her undergraduate career, she taught swim lessons for the local community, coached a swim team, and was a four-year member of the varsity swim team. She wrote her thesis on wildfire prevention policy in the Front Range, and studied with an interest in human rights from a health and environment perspective.
Amanda Crews Slezak is the managing attorney of NIJC’s in-house asylum team. She provides legal representation to noncitizens seeking asylum and other relief before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Immigration Court, and Board of Immigration Appeals. She was previously a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at NIJC. 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. Amanda is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Moisés López Soltero is a Coordinator with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. He earned a B.A. from DePauw University in Urban Studies and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Prior to joining NIJC, he worked at a private immigration office for several years and volunteered with the Mexico-US Solidarity Network as a course instructor. He has participated in research projects conducted in Latin America, analyzing migration patterns and issues facing the 21st century.
Stephanie Spiro is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Asylum Project. Previously, she was a staff attorney and then supervising attorney with the Central American Resource Center's Deportation Defense Unit, and then with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Stephanie graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Hispanic Studies, Sociology, and Women’s and Gender Studies, and she 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.
Karolyn Talbert, associate director of legal services, provides leadership to NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and NIJC’s Immigration Court Help Desk at the Chicago 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. Before joining NIJC, she was the attorney advisor for the Chicago Immigration Court. 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 the Legal Project Manager for NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project and is an Accredited Representative (full) through the Department of Justice. Trisha manages the VAWA & U Visa Pro Bono Project and Counter-Trafficking Project at NIJC, including two teams of attorneys and paralegals. Trisha also oversees DOJ Recognition and Accreditation for NIJC staff. 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 working group in Chicago since 2005. Trisha is a member of the Mayor of Chicago’s Gender-Based Violence Task Force and sits on the Heartland Alliance Strategy Leadership Council. 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.
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 associate director of digital communications. 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 and access to health care in Guatemala. Julia attended Boston College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin American studies.
Emilia Truluck is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Before coming to NIJC, she was a legal fellow at a human rights organization in London, England. She holds a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, an M.Sc. in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, an M.A. in Gender Studies and Law from SOAS, University of London, and a B.A. in Middle East Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Emory University. Prior to law school, she spent two years in the UK as a Marshall scholar and one year in Jordan as a Fulbright fellow. She has worked with refugees and asylum-seekers in the U.S., the UK, and Jordan. Emilia is licensed to practice law in the state of New York.
Clara Unzicker is a paralegal in NIJC’s Indianapolis office where she works on the Immigrant Children’s Project, Asylum Project, and Immigrant Legal Defense teams. Prior to joining NIJC, Clara lived and worked in Bogotá, Colombia, where she assisted with a project supporting children, internally displaced Colombians, and Venezuelan migrants. Clara graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Spanish from Goshen College in Goshen, IN.
Christina Valentin is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense project. Christina graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2023. During university, Christina worked as an investigative intern for the Public Defender Service for D.C. She worked as an interpreter for the Student Health Action Coalition at her university. She has also worked for other nonprofits and organizations to help address the educational opportunity gap between Latino and white students. Christina graduated from the University of North Carolina with a B.A. in political science and a B.A. in Hispanic
Jules Crane Vance is a paralegal with the LGBTQ Project. They graduated from the University of Chicago in 2022 with a Bachelor’s degree in Law, Letters, & Society and Fundamentals: Issues and Texts. Prior to joining NIJC, they interned with the Advocacy Program at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.
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.
Fabiola Villalpando is a Schreiber Fellow and staff attorney with NIJC's asylum project. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law with a Certificate in Child and Family Law, and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. During her time in law school, Fabiola participated in the Immigration Law Practicum and Immigration Detention Project, where she assisted detained migrants with their asylum applications. Fabiola is licensed to practice in Illinois.
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.