National Immigrant Justice Center
208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60604
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.
Karla Altmayer is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. Karla conducts weekly pro se workshops for adults in immigration custody and represents adults in removal defense. Prior to NIJC, Karla led a state-wide effort to empower farmworker women who were victims of workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF). In law school, Karla interned with the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF), and LAF’s Migrant Project and Crime Victims Project. Karla graduated from Northern Illinois University College of Law and is licensed to practice in Illinois.
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.
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 a Justice AmeriCorps fellow working with NIJC's Asylum Project. She provides legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children. 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.
Rebecca Cabezas is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Rebecca graduated from New York University with a M.S. in Global Affairs. During her studies, Rebecca interned with UNICEF and several other nonprofit organizations, in New York and Washington D.C., focused on international human rights issues. She received her B.A. in Political Science at the University of Illinois, and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain.
Jennifer Chan is NIJC's associate director of policy. Prior to joining NIJC, Jennifer worked for We Belong Together, a campaign to ensure that women are treated fairly in immigration reform, and OneAmerica, the largest immigrant rights advocacy organization in Washington State. She earned her Master in Public Policy from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in human rights from the University of Washington in Seattle, and studied abroad at the Centre Parisien des Etudes Critiques in Paris, France and the Faculty of Law at the Universitet i Bergen in Bergen, Norway.
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, Illinios.
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.
Mark Fleming is the National Litigation Coordinator. 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 a staff attorney with 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, and the Greater Boston Legal Services' Immigration Unit. She is 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.
Alli Gattari is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s of arts in English and Spanish. As an undergraduate, she was an operator for La Linea, a Spanish community helpline, and fundraised a legal representation fund for unaccompanied minors. Prior to joining NIJC, she was a community organizer for CU Immigration Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to immigrant’s rights. She also assisted unaccompanied minors access legal and social services and worked as a teaching assistant in a dual language classroom.
Rachel Geissler is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with degrees in cultural anthropology and Spanish and a minor in studio art. As an undergraduate, Rachel studied abroad in Lima, Peru and interned for the American Red Cross and the Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center, providing case management for refugees and asylum seekers. After graduating, she spent a year in Yucatán, Mexico teaching English through the Fulbright Program, and immediately before joining NIJC, worked as the translation coordinator at Illinois Legal Aid Online in Chicago.
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.
Audrey Gilliam is a Skadden Fellow and staff attorney for the Counter-Trafficking Project and Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Before joining NIJC, Audrey was a judicial law clerk for the El Paso Immigration Court. During law school, Audrey interned at NIJC, the ACLU of Southern California, the Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Abbott Fund’s Paralegal Aid program in Tanzania. She was also a child advocate for the Young Center. Audrey received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and graduated magna cum laude from Villanova University with a B.A. in sociology and Spanish. She is licensed to practice in 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 a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, she interned with NIJC's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Pro Bono Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. She also was an intern for the Immigration Program at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California. She studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain and organized around Title IX compliance as a director of the University of Chicago Clothesline Project and a co-founder of the survivor advocacy group, Phoenix Survivors Alliance. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2015 with honors with a bachelor’s degree in history and gender and sexuality studies.
Ashley Huebner is the managing attorney of NIJC's Asylum Project. Ashley provides training and legal support to pro bono attorneys representing asylum seekers through NIJC and also represents individuals seeking asylum and other immigration relief. She has been actively involved in litigating asylum cases related to gender-based asylum claims, the particular social group definition, gang-based asylum claims, and the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. Before joining NIJC, she was the judicial law clerk for the Orlando Immigration Court. Ashley received her B.A. from Marquette University and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law.
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.
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.
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. Prior to joining NIJC, she interned with the ACLU of Illinois and represented clients in the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law. Hena received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2002 and herJ.D. from NYU School of Law in 2006. 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).
Monica McCarthy is a partially accredited BIA Representative with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She also supports the coordination of NIJC’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project. Previously, Monica was a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Defense Project. Monica graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011, where she received a bachelor of arts with distinction in International Studies and Environmental Studies. She studied abroad in Lima, Perú and has traveled throughout South America. Monica completed a fellowship with La Fundación Entre Mujeres in Estelí, Nicaragua, where she participated in their rural women’s empowerment, agricultural market development, and ESL projects.
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.
Royce Bernstein Murray is director of policy and is located in NIJC’s Washington, D.C., office. She previously worked as an immigration and human rights law consultant for organizations such as the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center, the Center for Global Development, and the World Bank’s Nordic Trust Fund. Royce was also an adjunct professor teaching immigration law for five years at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Prior to consulting and teaching, she worked for the Department of Homeland Security at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office of the Chief Counsel, Refugee and Asylum Law Division, and as a Presidential Management Fellow for the Immigration and Naturalization Service Office of International Affairs. Royce began her legal career working with NGOs, including the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now “Human Rights First”), the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, and a local immigration clinic, Ayuda. She holds a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center and a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in political science from the University of Michigan. She is a member of the New York Bar.
Molly Narrod is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC’s staff, Molly was a legal assistant on the Children’s Project through a year-long service program called AVODAH. Previously, Molly earned her Illinois Professional Educator License with an endorsement in Early Childhood Education and taught pre-school on Chicago’s Southwest side. Molly graduated from Emory University in 2013, with a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology and a secondary major in Spanish. Molly studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador.
Andrea Ochoa is NIJC’s Detention Project Coordinator. She was previously a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Before joining NIJC, Andrea worked as Chicago's Outreach Coordinator for Mil Mujeres Legal Services, as well as a Policy Associate at the Latino Policy Forum. Andrea has over five years of experience working in local, national, and international organizations, including the Office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and The World Bank. Andrea received her B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is currently pursuing her J.D. at DePaul University College of Law.
Kathleen O’Donovan is NIJC's litigation project coordinator. Previously, she was a paralegal for NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Kathleen was the manager for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program at HACES in Waukegan, IL. She also worked at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as an AmeriCorp fellow where she mobilized volunteers, created ESL curriculum, and coordinated citizenship workshops. Kathleen received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College in anthropology, sociology, and Spanish. While in school Kathleen had the opportunity to study in Ecuador.
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.
Carolina Ramazzina Van Moorsel is NIJC’s Asylum and Pro Bono Project coordinator. She graduated from Fundação Getúlio Vargas of São Paulo, Brazil with a law degree. Carolina is licensed to practice Law in Brazil, where she has worked in family law, community mediation, and governmental contracting. She earned her LLM from the Law School of the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana, graduating with high honors. Before joining NIJC, Carolina worked as an advocate with La Línea, a hotline offering assistance to immigrants in the Champaign-Urbana area, and with Champaign County Health Care Consumers, which advances equal access to health care in the area. Carolina speaks French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
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 Immigrant Children's Protection Project. 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.
Jennifer Scarborough is a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to NIJC, Jennifer worked as a BIA-Accredited Representative with Catholic Social Services of Fall River, Massachusetts and also as an immigration legal assistant with Catholic Charities of Austin, Texas. Jennifer has studied social justice issues in Mexico, Rwanda, and Thailand. She holds a bachelor of arts in Spanish from Mars Hill College as well as a master of social work and master of divinity from Baylor University. She is currently a part-time student at DePaul University College of Law.
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.
Alek Suni is the LGBT Project Coordinator. He was previously a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Before joining NIJC, Alek spent a year researching renewable energy policy in Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar. He has studied, worked, or volunteered in Brazil, China, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, and interned in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Alek graduated with honors from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in economics, a certificate in Latin American studies, and a minor in Mandarin Chinese.
Diana Tafur is a supervising attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. She graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor of arts degree in English and political science. Diana obtained her J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law and is licensed in the state of New York. Prior to joining NIJC, she completed a year-long fellowship with Asylum Access in Ecuador representing refugees and asylum seekers.
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.
Trisha K. Teofilo Olave is a 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.
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, where she raises awareness of and garners support for immigrants’ rights by sharing their stories through online and offline channels. Julia has worked in nonprofit communications and management for organizations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. She 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.
Tarrajna Walsh is an executive coordinator at NIJC. Prior to joining NIJC, Tarrajna worked as a programs intern at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning. She has extensive experience in customer service, business development, campaign management, and community outreach. Tarrajna holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago in international studies with a focus on international law and global migration, and minors in English and Mandarin Chinese.
Mara Weaver is a paralegal at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office where she works with the Asylum, Children’s, and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects. She graduated from Goshen College with a major in history and secondary education and a minor in Spanish. During college, Mara studied in Peru and Paraguay, and lived in a Catholic Worker community in Atlanta. After graduation, Mara moved to Mexico City, where she lived and worked at Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker guest house and community center for peace and international understanding that focuses on work with immigrants and refugees as well as alternative community-based economics models.
Daniel Welsh is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense and Immigrant Children's Protection projects. 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.
Keren Zwick is the managing attorney for NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative and Adult Detention Project. Keren is Chair of the LGBT Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is a key contributor to the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition. 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.