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.
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.
Bilal Bach is NIJC's director of analytics and decision support, and previously worked with the state of Oregon and Heartland Alliance in Chicago and Lebanon.
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.
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 also worked as a paralegal with the Asylum, Immigrant Legal Defense, Non-Detained Kids, and VAWA/U Visa teams at NIJC’s Goshen office from 2014 to 2017. Prior to returning to NIJC, Mara was a DOJ fully-accredited representative with Project Hope-Proyecto Esperanza in Northwest Ohio, where she represented clients seeking family-based and humanitarian forms of immigration relief. Mara has lived and volunteered 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sareena Fayaz is a paralegal with NIJC’s in-house asylum team. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 2020 with a double major in Neuroscience and Political Science. As an undergraduate, she tutored and mentored children of Somali-Bantu refugees and helped low-income families connect with community resources at the Birmingham Free Clinic. Prior to joining NIJC, Sareena taught high-school students in Madrid, Spain.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Gema Hernandez Nava is a Project Coordinator with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Previously, she worked closely with the Federal Defenders of San Diego as a Litigation Coordinator for NIJC in San Diego. 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 (NEA). Gema has also worked with several organizations prioritizing human rights and migrant justice, including the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) 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.
Emily Jacobo is a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Prior to joining, she was a teaching fellow with Saga Education, in Little Village, Chicago. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 2020 with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Journalism. Emily is passionate about equality, immigrant communities, and human rights.
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 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.
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 senior attorney with NIJC's in-house asylum team. She specializes in representing formerly separated families seeking asylum and newly arrived asylum seekers before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Immigration Court, and Board of Immigration Appeals. Previously, she was a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to law school, Colleen worked as a paralegal handling U visa and VAWA at Catholic Charities Legal Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and family-based immigration petitions at Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services in El Paso, Texas. While attending law school at night, Colleen worked in the organized labor movement including a summer at the Culinary Workers Local 226 filing unfair labor practice charges against Trump Hotel in Las Vegas. 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.
Aaron Kruk is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. He graduated cum laude in the field of Philosophy from Harvard College in 2020, where he earned a language citation in Spanish and a certificate in Mind, Brain, and Behavior: a joint neuroscience, computer science, psychology, and philosophy program. Outside of the classroom, he spent time competing as a varsity wrestler and working in activism geared toward AAPI groups and gender-based and sexual violence prevention. After graduating, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on scholarship to earn his M.A. in Philosophy.
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.
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 and the VAWA/U Visa Pro Bono Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Jacqueline worked with unaccompanied children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR care) in a youth residential facility as a Youth Care Worker then a Family Reunification Specialist for unaccompanied children be safely reunified with family or individuals to the best care, need, and placement. She has done volunteer work with Mujeres Latinas en Accion with survivors of domestic violence. Jacqueline graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Gender & Women Studies.
Katie Mayopoulos is the VAWA / U Visa Pro Bono Project Coordinator with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She was previously 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).
Katie McCoy is a Schreiber fellow staff attorney with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, 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. Katie graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she received the 2022 American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education Scholarship & Leadership Award and worked in the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic.
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.
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).
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. She is also an Accredited Representative (partial) through the Department of Justice. Prior to joining NIJC, she was the immigration services coordinator and 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 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 the managing attorney of NIJC’s pro bono Asylum team. She represents noncitizens seeking asylum and other forms of relief and provides trainings and technical support to pro bono attorneys representing asylum seekers through NIJC. Before joining NIJC, Rachel clerked for Judge Bauer of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and worked as a public defender in Colorado as part of its Appellate Division. She received her B.A. and M.S.Ed and Social Policy from Northwestern University and her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
ManoLasya Perepa is a senior attorney with NIJC's in-house asylum team, where she coordinates response to pro se noncitizens who contact the Immigration Court Helpdesk. She also supports and represents asylum seekers, including those in the Asylum Merits Interview process and through the National Qualified Representative Program. Before joining NIJC, her experience was in filing U-Visas and VAWAs for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. ManoLasya received a B.A. in Global Studies, with a minor in Spanish, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While in undergrad, she completed a Capstone thesis: Narcotrafficking in Mexico and graduated with distinction. ManoLasya received her law degree from the University of Illinois Chicago. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Demetrius Sudduth-Peterson 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.
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.
Natalie Reysa is the Afghan Pro Bono Coordinator 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chana Sternberg is this year’s Avodah Jewish Service Corps Fellow with NIJC’s LGBT Project Team. She recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Development and History from The Ohio State University, where she found a passion for counter-extremism and security work. Prior to her work at NIJC, Chana was a policy writer for The People’s Plan NYC. In her free time, Chana enjoys traveling, studying languages, and discovering new music.
Andrew Szkolnik is an Avodah Fellow with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Andrew graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Politics and a minor in History. During his time at UC Santa Cruz, Andrew interned in Washington, DC for a member of Congress and later studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. His capstone research explored the growing roles that cities play in dealing with issues of global importance and how urban governance can offer new solutions to immigration crises.
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 Implementation 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.