Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center's staff is composed of dedicated human rights activists from a broad range of advocacy and legal backgrounds. Our legal services staff includes licensed attorneys, paralegals, and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives.
Staff members can be contacted by email using the following format: [first initial][last name]@heartlandalliance.org.
Heidi Altman is the director of policy. Previously, she served as the legal director for the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, where she oversaw the provision of legal services to men, women, and children in immigration custody as well as the provision of training and resources to pro bono attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Heidi previously created the in-house immigration services program at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and served as a Teaching Fellow in the immigration clinic at Georgetown Law School. She regularly provides analysis of immigration laws and policy proposals to news outlets including VICE, CNN, The New York Times, and Politico. Heidi is a graduate of New York University School of Law.
Julissa Alvarez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Julissa worked as the front desk coordinator for Institute for Learning at BMO Financial Group. She received her bachelor’s degree from York University in Toronto, Ontario, majoring in political science. As an international student in Canada, she devoted most of her time engaging other international students through athletics and orientation programs. She interned with Filici-Palacio Immigration Services, Inc. and has experience working in the Canadian immigration system. She is currently working towards an ABA-approved Paralegal Certificate from Elgin Community College.
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.
Saba Baig is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the Counter-Trafficking Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Saba worked as a staff attorney for the Battered Immigrant Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina and as an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney with the Immigration Project at LAF Chicago. During law school, she interned at the Chicago Legal Clinic’s Immigration Program and was a PILI intern at LAF Chicago. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and Amherst College. She is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney is the coordinator for the Federal Litigation Project at NIJC. She graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in linguistics, Spanish, and Arabic. During college, Sophie was involved with labor organizing on and off campus, often working with immigrant workers.
Brenda Benitez is a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from Pomona College in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy analysis with a concentration in psychology. Previously, Brenda worked as an editor for Education Post, an education non-profit in Chicago, and interned at the Immigration Center for Women and Children in Los Angeles, CA. She plans on attending law school in the future and likes to paint in her free time.
Jessica Binzoni is a Thomas L. Shaffer fellow working with NIJC's Asylum Project. Jessica graduated from St. Mary’s College of California summa cum laude with a degree in English. She obtained her J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame Law School and is licensed in the state of Illinois. During law school, she interned with Asylum Access in Oakland, California and BADIL Resource Center for Residency and Refugee Rights in the West Bank.
Maria Blumenfeld is an Equal Justice Works fellow sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and Reed Smith LLP at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She was previously a justice AmeriCorps fellow with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Maria provides legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children and formerly detained families in Indiana. Maria graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor's of science in business and was a member of the International Honor Society in business, management and administration. She obtained her J.D. from Valparaiso University Law School and is licensed in the state of Indiana. Prior to joining NIJC, she participated in the Valparaiso Immigration Clinic where she represented asylum seekers and served as an interpreter for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases.
Gianna Borroto is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Previously, Gianna was a staff attorney with the Children's and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects. She graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's of science in psychology. Gianna obtained her J.D. from Harvard Law School and is licensed in the state of Illinois. Prior to joining NIJC, she interned at Legal Services: NYC and the Department of Justice. She also participated in Harvard’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic, where she represented asylum seekers and asylees.
Laura Buttitta is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor's of arts in Spanish and international studies. During college, Laura studied international studies and development in Chile, and after graduation she spent a year in San Antonio, TX as a caseworker at Catholic Charities through the Jesuit Volunteer Program. Prior to joining NIJC, Laura taught English to unaccompanied immigrant children detained in Chicago and was a caseworker for immigrant families receiving pro bono legal services.
Nadia Danilovich is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Nadia was a staff attorney at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, where she also represented unaccompanied immigrant children. Nadia received her bachelor's degree in anthropology and Spanish from Scripps College and her J.D. from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. During law school she participated in USC’s Immigration Clinic, and interned at NIJC, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and the Wage Justice Center. She is licensed to practice law in California
Camila Di Mauri is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Camila worked at the Cook County Department of Corrections and The Voices and Faces Project. At this project, in partnership with End Demand Illinois, Camila worked on the Ugly Truth campaign - the first major anti-trafficking public service campaign in the United States. She piloted a version of “The Stories We Tell,” a testimonial-writing workshop for court involved girls who have survived gender-based violence and other human rights violations. Camila obtained a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado in Denver.
Morgan Drake is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Augustana College with a bachelor's of arts in anthropology and Spanish. During college, Morgan studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, and completed her BA thesis on the effects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has on the identities of young 1.5 generation Mexican immigrants. After graduating college, she worked as the Immigration Family Advocate at Casa Guanajuato in Moline, Illinois. Prior to joining NIJC, Morgan was an Interpreter/ELL Paraprofessional for Rockridge School District in Taylor Ridge, Illinois.
Diane Eikenberry is the associate director of policy. Before joining NIJC, she represented detained immigrant youth in their immigration cases and provided support and training to pro bono attorneys and community members as senior attorney for the Detained Children’s Program at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. Prior to that, Diane represented women survivors of gender-based violence at the Tahirih Justice Center. She is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School, where she served as a student attorney for the Immigration Clinic and interned at the Legal Aid Society of New York’s Immigration Law Unit and the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children. Before law school, Diane worked in public affairs for the firm Grisko in Chicago.
Vanessa Esparza-López is a supervising 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.
Lya Ferreyra is a paralegal with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lya graduated from Northwestern University with a major in social policy and a minor in English literature. As an undergraduate, she was involved in advocacy work for undocumented students. Lya served as a summer policy intern with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington D.C. and interned with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative before joining as staff.
Mark Fleming is the associate director of litigation. Mr. Fleming focuses on strategic litigation and public policy related to immigration enforcement and detention. NIJC’s work on enforcement issues was recognized with the 2014 Daniel Levy Award of the National Immigration Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mark was a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights focused on migrants' rights in the western hemisphere. In that capacity, he coordinated the Inter-American Commission's investigation into human rights concerns with U.S. immigration enforcement, detention, and due process detention's impact on due process. Mark graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center in 2006. While in law school, he worked on a host of immigrants' rights projects, including representing asylum seekers and coordinating a fact-finding mission to Ecuador to investigate the impacts of changes to U.S. immigration law on Colombian refugees. Mark is licensed by the State of New York.
Aneesha Gandhi is the supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Aneesha was a legal fellow at the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Immigration Assistance Program. During law school she interned for NIJC, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, the Greater Boston Legal Services' Immigration Unit, and the Vera Institute. Aneesha currently serves on the board of the National Lawyers Guild and is a collective member of Chicago Desi Youth Rising. She holds a B.A. from Smith College and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. Aneesha is licensed in the state of Michigan.
Amanda Y. Garcia is a staff attorney under the NIJC Legal Protection Fund. Before joining NIJC, Amanda served as a pro bono attorney for NIJC’s Detention Project. She has practiced multiple areas of law including family, employment, and business. Prior to practicing immigration law, she served as a pastoral care volunteer for detained immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area. Amanda earned her J.D. at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in 2006 and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 2002.
Joe Gietl is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project (ILD). Joe was most recently an ILD staff attorney, providing help desk screenings and legal representation for non-detained immigrants at the Chicago Immigration Court. Throughout law school, Joe worked at NIJC as a paralegal and BIA accredited representative with the VAWA/U Visa Pro Bono Project, the Post-Asylum Benefits & Citizenship Pro Bono Projects, and the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, he worked in Los Angeles, California, as a non-profit paralegal in the areas of immigration, government benefits, and tenant rights law. Joe received his undergraduate degree in International Affairs from Marquette University and earned his J.D. magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Ary Hansen is a paralegal with the Asylum Project. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science and minor in French and international studies. As an undergraduate, Ary studied abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. Previously, she interned with NIJC’s Asylum Project, as well as World Relief Chicago, the Center for Forced Migration Studies, Health Leads Chicago, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She speaks French and Spanish.
Veronica Portillo Heap is the project coordinator for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Previously, she was a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. As an undergraduate, she interned at NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project, as well as at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California. Veronica graduated with honors from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in history and gender and sexuality studies.
Brittany Herschberger is a paralegal 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.
Ashley Huebner is the managing attorney of NIJC's Asylum Project, which provides pro bono representation to more than 500 asylum seekers each year. Ashley conducts legal trainings and provides technical support to pro bono attorneys representing individuals seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and other relief through NIJC. She specializes in asylum issues related to gender-based claims and unaccompanied children and regularly speaks at national conferences regarding these and other asylum topics. Ashley is actively involved in impact litigation related to complex asylum issues, including gender and gang-based asylum claims, the particular social group definition, and the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. Ashley received her B.A. from Marquette University and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law.
Jesse Johnson is the Detention Project pro bono coordinator. Prior to joining NIJC, Jesse was a legal assistant supervisor at an immigration law firm where he worked on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), asylum, and all removal defense processes. As an undergraduate, he interned at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and studied abroad in Costa Rica. Jesse received his bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies with a concentration in immigration, and in English from Davidson College.
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.
Emma Koch is an executive coordinator with NIJC. Previously Emma interned at the University of Chicago’s Episcopal center where she assisted with programming, student outreach, and interfaith event planning. During college she received a grant from the Lily Summer Discernment Institute to assist with educational programming within the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. She graduated with a B.A. in religious studies from the University of Chicago with a focus on contemporary American Christianity.
Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services, 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.
Tania Linares Garcia is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Tania served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Granger, Washington. She earned her 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.
Eric Lopez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. He obtained his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law. While in law school, he worked as an advocate with La Línea, a hotline offering assistance to immigrants in Champaign County. He also participated in the foreclosure defense clinic and interned with the Speaker of the House, Michael J. Madigan’s Technical Review Unit in Springfield, IL. Prior to joining NIJC, Eric practiced law before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Ruth Lopez-McCarthy is a managing attorney with the Legal Protection Fund Project. Ruth holds over 14 years of experience in the immigration movement both locally and nationally. After working as an organizer in her local community in Chicago, Ruth obtained her J.D. from Chicago- Kent College of Law. Ruth has served as deputy field director with the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, coalition coordinator for the Northern Borders Coalition, and as the deputy legislative associate/legislative liaison for Field for the Alliance for Citizenship campaign in Washington, D.C. She joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as the comprehensive immigration reform implementation director in 2013 where she built the IL is READY Campaign in preparation for administrative relief. Ruth has worked as a consultant for national immigration advocacy organizations coordinating immigrant focused programs across the country. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Shianne Lyles is a reception area scheduler for NIJC. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied international studies and slavic languages. Shianne is fluent in multiple languages and has strong customer service skills.
Karin Machalová is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Karin graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor's of arts in political science. She also received a Certificate in Business Anthropology from the College of Dupage. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked as an intern for Human Rights Watch and participated in New Leadership Illinois, a program hosted by the Conference of Women Legislators and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. She is fluent in Czech and Spanish.
Hena Mansori is the supervising attorney of the NIJC’s Adult Detention Project. Since joining NIJC in 2008, Hena has represented detained immigrants in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and Board of Immigration Appeals. In addition to supervising NIJC’s detention team, she also manages NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and provides trainings and consultations to criminal defense attorneys through NIJC’s Defender’s Initiative program. Hena works on all areas of immigration law as they pertain to detained immigrants but has a special interest in the intersection between criminal and immigration law. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2002 and her J.D. from NYU School of Law in 2006, where she was in NYU’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
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).
Kate Melloy Goettel is a litigation attorney in NIJC’s federal litigation unit. Prior to joining NIJC, Kate worked for seven years in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, most recently as senior litigation counsel. Kate has practiced in nearly 40 federal district courts, seven courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before joining DOJ, Kate clerked for two years for a U.S. District Judge. Kate graduated with distinction from the University of Iowa College of Law. During law school, she worked in the law school’s immigration clinic and interned in NIJC’s asylum project. Kate previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosrae, Micronesia. She is licensed by the state of Iowa.
Soledad Mendoza is a paralegal with NIJC's Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Soledad was a New Americans Democracy Project fellow with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In 2016, she graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor of arts in politics. Her independent work focused on Latino politics and her thesis explored restrictive state immigration laws and their effect on the naturalization patterns of Latinos. As an undergraduate, she tutored GED students through the Petey Greene Prison Tutoring Program, and was actively involved in an ESL teaching program and a student group that helped mentor high school Dreamers in Trenton.
Emily Metallic is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and international studies, and a minor in Spanish. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Valparaiso, Chile, interned with Catholic Charities Indianapolis Refugee and Immigrant Services, and volunteered as an ESL tutor for Volunteers in Teaching Adult Learners in Bloomington, IN. Following graduation, she spent a year in Paris caring for children as an au pair.
Daniel Morales is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Daniel worked with the National Center for Institutional Diversity on its higher education policy research and advocacy related to immigrant and refugee student access and outcomes. Daniel holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. During his time as a student he worked with the U-M Administration and other colleges and universities in the state of Michigan to reform their tuition and financial aid policies so as to create a viable path to higher education for undocumented students.
Courtney Moran is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the Immigration Court Helpdesk. Prior to joining NIJC, Courtney spent two years clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and two years clerking for the Omaha Immigration Court. Before that she received her law degree from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a student attorney in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Courtney received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Truman State University. She is licensed to practice law in California.
JuanCamilo Parrado is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. JuanCamilo previously worked as a staff attorney at World Relief Chicago, where he represented a wide variety of cases including U visas, DACA, and citizenship applications, and managed the legal lead position for the New Americans Initiative at World Relief Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) majoring in French and Psychology. He also attended FSU College of Law, during which time he was a student attorney at the Public Interest Law Center immigration clinic and graduated with a certificate in international law. JuanCamilo was also a legislative assistant with the Florida Senate, where he worked on anti-human trafficking and healthcare legislation. He is barred in New York.
Guadalupe Perez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. Guadalupe graduated from Macalester College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law where she participated in various immigration clinics. During law school, Guadalupe was a Public Interest Law Initiative intern at NIJC with the Detention Project and an intern at Legal Assistance Foundation. Prior to law school, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan.
Irakere Picon is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Irakere worked with the Community Activism Law Alliance and the Chicago Law and Education Foundation providing legal services to immigrant families across several Chicago neighborhoods including Little Village, Pilsen, Back of the Yards as well as in several Chicago high schools. Irakere earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and Italian from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his J.D. from Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) College of Law. While in law school, Irakere interned with NIU’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic, LAF, and competed in national moot court competitions. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Veronica Portillo Heap is the LGBT Project Coordinator. Previously, she was a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. As an undergraduate, she interned at NIJC with the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project, as well as at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2015 with honors with a bachelor’s degree in history and gender and sexuality studies.
Kate Ramos is a staff attorney with NIJC. 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 Berkeley Public Interest Law Fellow and attorney working with NIJC’s Detention Project. She provides legal representation to detained immigrants in their removal proceedings. 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. While in law school, Diana was part of the International Human Rights Law Clinic and coordinated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Legal Services Program for undocumented students at UC Berkeley. Prior to starting law school, she was a community organizer with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy in Oakland. Diana is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Hillary Richardson is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project, focusing her work on unaccompanied immigrant children and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. 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.
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.
Esperanza Rodriguez is the receptionist for NIJC’s office in downtown Chicago and helps to manage all administrative needs of the office. Esperanza has been working for NIJC since 1987.
Charles Roth is NIJC's director of 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.
Tovia Siegel is a paralegal with NIJC’s Legal Protection Fund. Before joining NIJC, Tovia taught English in public schools in Chile more than a year. She received her bachelor’s degree with honors in sociology from University of Chicago in 2015.
Marie Silver is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Marie received a B.S. in Spanish and a B.A. in communications from Northwestern University, and she graduated magna cum laude from DePaul University College of Law. While a law student, Marie interned at NIJC with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, and at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She also participated in the DePaul Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic and the Human Rights Practicum in Chiapas, Mexico. Prior to law school, Marie worked as a senior case manager in the Heartland Alliance shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children and interned with the American Red Cross.
Amanda Crews Slezak is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She was previously a staff attorney in the Children’s Project. Amanda graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law where she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow. Prior to law school, Amanda spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde working in education and community development. She received her Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Baylor University.
Karolyn Talbert, associate director of legal services, provides leadership to NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and NIJC’s Self Help Desk at the Immigration Court. She provides legal representation to immigrants in removal proceedings and in applications for immigration benefits. As a former Equal Justice Works Fellow, Karolyn specialized in representing immigrant victims of notary fraud. Karolyn is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a frequent presenter on immigration law. Before joining NIJC, she was the attorney advisor for the Immigration Court in Chicago. Karolyn is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Cindy Tapper is the associate director of resource development. Prior to joining NIJC, Cindy served as the assistant director of trustee engagement and communications for the University of Chicago. Cindy has a broad range of communications and development experience, having worked with many Chicago-based companies and organizations, including the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law where she managed the agency’s fundraising, outreach and external affairs efforts. She is a 2014 Fellow with the Association of Fundraising Professionals and a board member with Chicago Women in Philanthropy. She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication, as well as a M.S. in Public Service Management from DePaul University.
Angelicca Telles is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD) Project and the Immigration Court Helpdesk. Prior to joining NIJC’s staff, Angelicca served as an intern with the ILD Project through AVODAH, a year-long service program. Angelicca studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco, where she conducted an independent project on non-government organizations and survivors of sexual assault in Morocco. She has interned with Women Employed, a nonprofit devoted to women’s economic equity in Chicago, and currently serves as a board member for the Farther Foundation. She graduated from Pomona College in 2015 with a dual bachelor’s degree in history and gender and women’s studies.
Trisha K. Teofilo Olave is a senior legal supervisor for NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project. Prior to joining NIJC, Trisha was a BIA-Accredited representative at World Relief-Chicago and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. While at Catholic Charities, she supervised the Crime Victims Program, was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) coordinator and the pro bono coordinator. Trisha also worked as the senior legal assistant for a private immigration firm. She has participated in the VAWA/U Visa collaborative in Chicago since 2005. Trisha graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago with an honors bachelor of arts degree in political science and minors in Spanish and international studies.
Alice Thompson is a paralegal for NIJC’s Detention Project. Alice graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s of arts in political science, Spanish literature and international studies. During college, Alice studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she researched the migratory experiences of Peruvian and Paraguayan domestic workers. She was also the recipient of a two-year research fellowship to examine the gendered dimensions of the DACA application process at a Chicago-area legal clinic. Previously, she interned with NIJC’s Detention Project as well as Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Get IN Chicago.
Tara Tidwell Cullen is NIJC's director of communications. She works with the news media and leads NIJC's communications strategy and content development 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. Tara previously was the managing editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University and a master’s in media, culture, and society from DePaul University. Her writing on human rights has been published by Change.org, Huffington Post , The Christian Science Monitor, Rewire, and Alternet.
Julia Toepfer is the marketing and online engagement manager at NIJC. Julia has more than ten years of experience working in nonprofit communications, management, and fundraising for organizations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. She has provided training and consulting services for nonprofits, unions, and organizations to strengthen their social media channels and develop impactful online campaigns. Prior to joining NIJC, Julia was a legal assistant for an immigration law firm in Boston, worked on a collaborative campaign to achieve in-state college tuition for immigrant students in Massachusetts, and worked on advancing human rights in Guatemala with the Chicago-based Health, Education and Relief Foundation. Julia attended Boston College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin American studies.
Ana Valenzuela is a staff attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Ana received a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Northwestern University. She is a graduate of DePaul University College of Law where she participated in the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic. While a law student, Ana was an intern with LAF’s Immigration Project and an extern with NIJC’s Adult Detention Project. Prior to law school, Ana worked for six years as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Chicago.
Claudia Valenzuela is the detention project director. Claudia represents non-citizens before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and the federal courts via removal defense, impact litigation and administrative advocacy. She is a 2002 graduate of DePaul University’s College of Law and is a former Equal Justice Works Fellow (EJW). Prior to her graduation from the DePaul, Claudia served as a legal intern for NIJC developing a program for outreach and legal services to Chicago’s Guatemalan and Salvadoran communities. Claudia is licensed by the State of Illinois.
Daniel Welsh is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Daniel served as an AmeriCorps member at Kentucky Equal Justice Center, where he helped manage a free clinic for immigrant victims of wage theft. In college, he studied in Peru with the School for International Training’s Indigenous Peoples and Globalization program. After graduating, he spent a year as a human rights observer in a northern Ecuadorian farming community plagued by mining conflict. Daniel holds a BA in anthropology and Spanish from DePauw University.
Sylvia Wolak is is the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project coordinator and a representative on the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She supports the coordination of the project and provides direct support to attorneys working on U Visa and VAWA cases. Previously, she was a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project. Sylvia graduated with a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she taught English literature and composition to undergraduate students. While at UIC, she presented her work at academic conferences, organized academic panels and scholarly events, and studied French. She has also taught English in Madrid, Spain. Sylvia received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she majored in English and political science and minored in Spanish. She is fluent in Polish and Spanish, with conversational proficiency in French.
Keren Zwick is NIJC’s associate director of litigation and oversees the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Keren co-chairs the committee of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) that acts as the liaison between government enforcement officials and private attorneys. She is also a key contributor to the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition. Keren has led or participated in federal litigation in seven different Circuit Courts and before the United States Supreme Court. Keren joined NIJC following two years of 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.