National Immigrant Justice Center
208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1818, 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.
Rocío Alcántar is a supervising attorney for NIJC’s Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining the Children's Project she was the lead staff attorney with NIJC's Counter-Trafficking project. Before joining NIJC, Rocío interned with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica. While a law student she participated in the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic and was a Sullivan Human Rights Fellow for the International Human Rights Institute at DePaul University College of Law. She received her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law, and her B.A. from the University of Chicago.
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.
Seth Ashton is a paralegal working with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. He graduated from the University of Utah where he double majored in International Studies and Spanish. While at the University of Utah, Seth volunteered with the S.J. Quinney College of Law Pro Bono Initiative in a public relations capacity and worked to increase public awareness of the school's immigration clinic. Seth is currently a law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Saba Baig is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Saba worked as a staff attorney for the Battered Immigrant Project at Legal Aid of North Carolina and as an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation, representing immigrant victims of crimes. While in law school, she interned at the Chicago Legal Clinic and was a PILI intern at Legal Assistance Foundation. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and Amherst College. She is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Michelle Bezner serves as the Asylum and Pro Bono Project coordinator. Michelle graduated from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in December 2009 with a bachelor's degree in African and Middle Eastern Studies. She also holds a master's degree in Childhood Education from Hunter College School of Education. Prior to joining NIJC, she served as a Teach for America Corps Member in Harlem, New York. Michelle has extensive experience studying and living abroad and speaks Spanish, Hebrew, and French.
Gianna Borroto is a staff attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Protection Project and Immigrant Legal Defense Project. 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.
Erin Carpenter is a paralegal for the Immigrant Children's Defense Project. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and international studies with a concentration in human rights. During her undergraduate, Erin interned for Congressman Andre Carson and the Indiana Department of Corrections. Erin studied abroad in Argentina, which allowed her to conduct research for her senior capstone thesis on transitional justice in the country after the fall of the dictatorship.
Azadeh Erfani is a paralegal in the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked as an AmeriCorps scholar in Association House of Chicago, providing ESL and Citizenship services. Azadeh has a Bachelors of Arts in philosophy and Spanish from Bryn Mawr College and a Masters of Arts in philosophy from DePaul University. She has traveled, studied, and volunteered in France, Argentina, and Mexico.
Vanessa Esparza-López is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, where she provides legal representation to immigrants in administrative applications and removal proceedings. Vanessa previously interned with NIJC in 2008 and 2009. Prior to joining NIJC as a staff attorney, Vanessa practiced immigration law at a private firm. Vanessa is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), where she has volunteered by representing foreign nationals in bond hearings and presenting detained foreign nationals with “Know Your Rights” presentations. 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. She is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Mark Fleming is the National Litigation Coordinator. 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 and detention, and detention's impact on due process. Mark graduated 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 and the District of Columbia.
Mary Georgevich is a paralegal with the Children’s Project and the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Mary graduated from Santa Clara University in 2009 with a BS in Political Science and a minor in Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Prior to NIJC, she was the Field Associate for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby in Washington, DC, where she educated members on social justice issues that were before Congress and lobbied on Social Security and housing law. Previously, Mary worked as a case manager at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, where she mentored former gang members and at-risk youth. She has studied abroad in Granada, Spain and volunteered in Mexico.
Joe Gietl is a BIA-Accredited Representative working with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Joe graduated from Marquette University in 2006 with an honors Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs. He has traveled, studied, and volunteered extensively in Latin America. In the years following graduation, Joe worked in Los Angeles, California, as a non-profit paralegal in immigration, government benefits, and tenant rights law. Joe is a part-time evening student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and is the recipient of the Chicago Bar Foundation's 2010 Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Law Scholarship.
Kelin Hall is the pro bono coordinator for NIJC’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiatives. She has previously worked as a paralegal with NIJC’s Children’s Protection and Counter-Trafficking Projects, and she continues to work with Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Kelin graduated from the University of Chicago in 2009. She received special honors for her BA thesis discussing the impact of international human rights advocates on U.S. foreign policy at the end of the Cold War. Kelin also received funding to intern at Human Rights Watch and to conduct research in Peru on corruption and human rights violations. She discussed her research on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, where she later interned.
Alison Heinen is NIJC’s Amate Volunteer for the year as a paralegal with the Children’s Project. Ali graduated from Marquette University in May 2012 with a bachelor’s in Psychology and Spanish. She has extensive volunteer and research experience particularly with marginalized and Latino populations. As an undergraduate, she spent a semester in Santiago, Chile at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad Alberto Hurtado. While abroad, she also taught English and led activity workshops at Centro Abierto Santa Adriana for at risk youth in Santiago and traveled throughout South America.
Ashley Huebner is a supervising attorney for the Asylum Project. She also chairs the Asylum Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 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. Before joining NIJC, she was the judicial law clerk for the Orlando Immigration Court. She also interned with the Boston Immigration Court, Catholic Charities' immigration department in Boston, and was a law clerk for a private immigration firm. Ashley received her B.A. from Marquette University and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. She is licensed in the State of Illinois.
Elizabeth Kalmbach is the Detention Project Coordinator. She oversees initial screening of detained immigrants who contact NIJC for legal assistance. She also coordinates the Know Your Rights program, which provides legal rights presentations and one-on-one legal intake to detainees at six detention facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Prior to coming to NIJC, Elizabeth worked at Annunciation House, an emergency shelter for immigrants and refugees on the U.S./Mexico border. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006 with a bachelor's in international studies.
Lisa Koop is a managing attorney at NIJC, where she contributes to the Asylum, LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative, Litigation and Immigrant Legal Defense projects. Before joining NIJC, Lisa completed a two-year fellowship at the Notre Dame Legal Clinic, where she taught law students who handled immigration cases. Lisa graduated magna cum laude from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 2004.
Sloka Krishnan is NIJC’s executive administrator. Prior to joining NIJC, he worked at Affinity Community Services, doing community building work with LGBT people of color. Sloka is active in Chicago queer/trans and (South) Asian American circles. A Midwest native, he graduated from Indiana University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts.
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.
Catherine Matthews is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Catherine graduated from the University of Richmond in 2011 where she majored in both Spanish and a self-designed Global Human Rights program which culminated in an independent thesis focusing on male victims of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict. Catherine studied abroad in Spain, Argentina, and Kenya, where she researched ethnic interactions and gang violence in the capital’s largest slum. She has also interned with Physicians for Human Rights and volunteered with a refugee family in Richmond, VA.
Natalie Maust is a BIA-Accredited Representative with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, serving as the U visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project coordinator. Prior to joining NIJC in 2009, Natalie interned with Paz y Esperanza, a Peruvian human rights organization, publicly presenting her diagnostic research on domestic violence at the district-level and serving as technical translator for trainings related to criminal investigation of child sexual abuse. Natalie obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree at Wheaton College in Anthropology and Spanish with a Human Needs and Global Resources Certificate.
Mary McCann Sanchez oversees NIJC's resource management and assists in the coordination of the Detention, Democracy & Due Process (D3P) project. Mary has educational experience with immigrant communities in the United States, direct service work with refugees and displaced communities under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, and post-war social reconstruction work in Central America with the American Friends Service Committee. Before joining NIJC in 2010, Mary worked as a consultant in planning, monitoring, and evaluation with development agencies in Latin America. Mary has masters degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Northern Illinois University.
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 her leadership, NIJC has grown from a staff of eight to forty, serving 10,000 noncitizens each year through an unparalleled network of more than 1,000 pro bono attorneys. Through its unique combination of direct service, impact litigation and advocacy, NIJC promotes due process protections before the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and the Administration. Prior to joining NIJC in 1998, Mary Meg practiced civil litigation and served as a pro bono attorney for NIJC’s asylum project. Mary Meg has testified before Congressional Committees on human rights and immigration detention reform. In addition, she is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences on human rights and immigration law and has been quoted in leading news outlets such as The New York Times. Mary Meg has provided local, national and international audiences with chilling evidence of the civil rights abuses that plagued immigrant communities in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Early in her career, Mary Meg lived in Chile where she worked in local communities to help safeguard the rights of individuals living under a dictatorship. She is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Robert Bellarmine Award from Loyola University Chicago School of Law for distinguished alumni, Chicago AILA Chapter’s Joseph Minsky Mentor Award, Lawyers Trust Fund’s Esther Rothstein Award, and the Federal Bar Association's Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award.
Monica McCarthy is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Monica graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011, where she received a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in International and Environmental Studies. She studied abroad in Lima, Perú and has traveled throughout South America. Before coming to NIJC, Monica was living in Estelí, Nicaragua, working on the rural women’s empowerment, agricultural market development and ESL projects of La Fundación Entre Mujeres.
Ellen Miller is the supervising coordinator for NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project, which provides legal services to unaccompanied minors in detention. Prior to joining NIJC, Ellen worked in international protection issues with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Washington, D.C. and Cairo, Egypt. Ellen graduated magna cum laude from the American University in Cairo, Egypt, with a master's in International Human Rights Law and a graduate diploma in Psychosocial Interventions for Forced Migration Studies. She obtained her bachelor's degree, with honors, in international studies from DePaul University in 2006. She has extensive experience living abroad and speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
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 is also an adjunct professor teaching immigration law at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Prior to her consulting, 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.
Alexis Perlmutter serves as NIJC's associate director of policy. She has previously worked at New York University's Asian/Pacific/American Institute, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Amnesty International. Alexis graduated from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Studies with an interdisciplinary degree in human rights.
Sarah Plastino is a staff attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Sarah graduated from Georgetown University Law Center. At Georgetown, Sarah was a Global Law Scholar, and she also participated in the Center for Applied Legal Studies (Georgetown’s Asylum Clinic). Sarah was a legal intern at the U.S. Department of State Office of the Legal Adviser and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Before law school, Sarah attended the University of North Carolina and worked at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, where she assisted numerous detained LGBT immigrants with applications for asylum and other forms of relief.
Jackie Reidelberger is a BIA-Accredited Representative for the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Before joining NIJC, Jackie spent time in northern Mexico and Guatemala, where she studied economic development and social justice issues relating to immigration. Jackie graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies in 2007.
Mary Roche is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated with honors from Tulane University in 2007 with a Bachelors 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.
Nora Salgado is a BIA-Accredited Representative with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Nora graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is a part-time evening student at The John Marshall Law School. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked as a court advocate on behalf of domestic violence victims in DuPage County.
Lauren Shapiro is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Lauren graduated from Tulane University in 2012, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a minor in English language and literature. She lived abroad for a year in Granada, Spain. Before coming to NIJC, Lauren volunteered as a teacher of citizenship classes with Catholic Charities in New Orleans.
Mony Ruiz-Velasco is the director of legal services. Although she is involved in all NIJC projects, Mony directly oversees Immigrant Legal Defense, Immigrant Children's Protection, and gender-based protection projects. Mony worked with NIJC in 2000-2002 developing its Asylum, Counter-trafficking and Immigrant Children's Protection projects. Mony also worked in private immigration law practice. Previously, Mony was an attorney advisor under the Attorney General's Honors Program at the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Mony is a 1999 graduate of St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas and is licensed in Texas.
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.
Trisha K. Teofilo 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 associate director of communications. She works with the media to tell stories about the need for fair and humane immigration laws, and oversees NIJC's website and online outreach, including the Immigrant Justice Blog. Tara previously served as the managing editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly and has been a freelance reporter and event organizer for a number of social justice organizations. 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 issues has been published by Change.org, Huff Post Chicago, The Christian Science Monitor, and Alternet.
Julia Toepfer is the marketing and communications coordinator 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.
Regina Trillo graduated with honors from Northwestern University School of Law with a master’s in International Human Rights Law, and was a member of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, where she assisted death row inmates in Malawi and Texas. Before coming to Chicago, Regina was a deputy director for projects and planning at the Mexican Human Rights Commission in Mexico City. Regina has also interned for the Open Society Institute Justice Initiative Program in New York City and for former Council Member Simcha Felder (44th District) at City Hall in New York. She also has volunteered for the Consulate of Mexico in Chicago and for the International Red Cross. Regina is an attorney admitted to practice in Mexico.
Claudia Valenzuela is the Associate Director of Litigation. 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.
Sarah Rose Weinman is an Equal Justice Works Fellow and attorney working with NIJC's Detention and Litigation Projects. Sarah's project seeks to protect the rights of immigrants who are in deportation proceedings due to prior criminal convictions that were constitutionally defective and to assist criminal defense attorneys to safeguard the rights of their non-citizen clients during criminal proceedings, in compliance with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. Sarah joined NIJC after working at an indigent defense law office in New York City and clerking in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. She attended law school at the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall), and obtained her bachelor's degree from Reed College. Between college and law school, she worked as NIJC's Policy and Program Liaison. Sarah is licensed to practice law in New York. Her fellowship is generously sponsored by Baker & McKenzie LLP.
Sylvia Wolak is the administrative assistant at NIJC. Prior to joining NIJC, Sylvia worked as an English teaching assistant in Madrid, Spain and as a journalist in Chicago. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with honors in English and a second major in Political Science. Sylvia is fluent in Spanish and Polish, and is active in the Polish community.
Kim Ybarra is National Litigation Project Coordinator. Prior to joining NIJC, Kim interned with Heartland Alliance’s International Programs, working on programming within the Middle East and Latin America for at-risk populations including internally displaced people, refugees, and child soldiers. She has traveled, studied, and volunteered throughout Mexico, Italy, and Dominican Republic. Kim graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and in International Studies from the University of Dayton in May 2009, and received her master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago in June 2010.
Keren Zwick is the supervising attorney for NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. 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.