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Each year at NIJC’s annual Human Rights Awards, we recognize associate or junior-level attorneys who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to ensuring access to justice for immigrants by devoting substantial time to NIJC pro bono work, serving a significant number of NIJC clients, and/or representing clients with complex cases.

We are grateful for the 2,000+ dedicated attorneys who volunteer their time and skills to represent immigrants and asylum seekers and to defend their rights.
This year for NIJC’s 22nd Annual Human Rights Awards virtual event, we are proud to award nine outstanding attorneys with the Rising Star Award. We congratulate them and thank them for their contributions!

Here are the recipients of the 2021 Rising Star Award:

Xenia Chiu
Associate at Sidley Austin LLP

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"It has been an honor to support NIJC’s mission of ensuring human rights protections for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and to advocate on behalf of vulnerable families for the opportunity to reunite and stay in the United States freely and safely."

Judy He
Associate at Haynes and Boone, LLP

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"It has been an absolute honor and privilege to work with NIJC during these very challenging times to advocate for immigrant families and be a part of their journey towards finding safety and stability in the United States. I am extremely grateful for all that NIJC has provided to help me develop as a lawyer and contribute positively to our community."

Mara Klebaner
Associate at White & Case LLP

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"NIJC does great work and I consider myself fortunate to be included in its network of pro bono attorneys. I worked with NIJC’s expert immigration attorneys to secure the release of a particularly Covid-vulnerable individual from ICE custody during the pandemic. It was an honor to assist in such an important mission."


Luke Maher
Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

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"NIJC’s work is vital, life-changing, and inspiring. It is a humbling privilege to support them in their pursuit of justice."

Lea Malewitz
Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

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"It has been an honor and a privilege to work closely with the dedicated teams at NIJC to manifest such a significant and positive impact on another person's life."

Emilie O’Toole
Associate at McDermott, Will & Emery, LLC

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Working with NIJC on behalf of remarkable and resilient clients is truly an honor. This work takes an enormous amount of persistence, but to see our client finally granted the relief she deserves and to know this work will change the lives of others like her in the future is immensely gratifying. It is a reminder of the power we have as attorneys to give our clients a voice and make a difference.

Akash Patel
Associate at Hogan Lovells US LLP

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“As an immigrant myself, I am deeply honored to receive this generous award. It is a profound privilege to help immigrants seeking asylum overcome all odds as they fight to make America their new home. And watching our client endure 2.5 years of detention followed by another 1.5 years of incarceration—until we finally secured his release—truly humbled me. His strength and patience will continue to inspire me for years to come, and I am grateful to have played just one part in his incredible story. I am also grateful that NIJC is able to recognize our passionate team, which includes Hogan Lovells Partner Robert Wolinsky, Hogan Lovells Associate Hillary Neger, CAIR Coalition mentors Caroline Hodge, Melody Vidmar, and Jenny Kim, and particularly, NIJC’s own Ruben Loyo, whose superb mentorship made all the difference throughout our case.”

Akash's client Gabriel said:
“I am only still in America fighting for asylum because of all of the time and work that my lawyers have put in for me. I am speechless. There were so many times that I have wanted to give up because of how hard the asylum system is here and because I didn’t know how much longer I could handle being in detention. But my lawyers always inspired me to keep going. I will never be able to repay everyone’s kindness, but I am so glad that organizations like NIJC are able to recognize them. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has been making my asylum case possible.”

P.C. Wang
Associate at Sidley Austin LLP

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"As a Gen 1.5 immigrant who came to the U.S. with pretty much nothing as a kid, the concept of immigration and all the challenges and opportunities that it brings has been central to my identity my whole life. As part of that in-between generation, I grew up always grappling with the feeling of being not quite Chinese or American and really just not belonging anywhere. It has been a lifelong journey for me to understand and get comfortable with my identity as an immigrant, and as a result, I’m passionate about immigration issues as somebody who still believes firmly in the positives that this country can offer while also really sympathizing with the difficulties of coming here and creating a life here, in terms of both the procedural hurdles and the emotional challenges. As somebody who has both experienced those challenges and reaped the benefits, I really want to do my part to help others find their place here."

Lizzy Westrope
Associate at DLA Piper

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"My pro bono work with NIJC has been incredibly rewarding. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with each one of my clients. I’ve learned so much from them – kindness, empathy, determination, and resilience in the face of extreme adversity. They inspire me to be a better lawyer, and more importantly, a better person. Thank you, NIJC, for your tireless work and advocacy!"


Julia Toepfer is the senior marketing and digital engagement strategist at NIJC.