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.
Cindy Agustin is the outreach coordinator and works with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Before joining NIJC, she was a youth organizer at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, where she worked with undocumented youth, families, and staff in high schools and universities on issues of college access, deferred action, and undocumented immigrants' rights. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in comparative human development and a minor in human rights.
Rocío Alcántar is a supervising attorney for NIJC’s Access to Counsel Project, a new initiative of the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She previously worked as a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project and as the lead staff attorney for the 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.
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.
Seth Ashton is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and assists individuals in immigration proceedings through NIJC’s Help Desk. He previously worked for two years as a paralegal with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative while attending Chicago-Kent College of Law. Seth received undergraduate degrees from the University of Utah in International Studies and Spanish.
Saba Baig is a supervising 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.
Kate Banner is NIJC’s detention project coordinator. Kate graduated from University of Exeter in 2011 with an M.A. in Critical Global Politics awarded with distinction. Using the UK as a case study, her postgraduate research examined the growing trend of administrative detention of non-citizens in the post-9/11 political context. Before joining NIJC, Kate worked with Open Society Foundations and the Refugee Therapy Centre in London, as well as Casa Latina and Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle, Washington.
Amy Black is an executive coordinator for NIJC. She graduated from DePaul University in 2012 with a B.A. in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. In her studies, she focused on globalization and structural violence. Prior to joining NIJC, Amy worked in Honduras with Global Brigades, an international health and development organization working with student groups Central America and Africa. Amy has extensive experience in project management, volunteer management, international logistics management, and community outreach and organization.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Alexandra Fung is the managing attorney for NIJC’s Immigrant Children's Protection Project, which provides legal services to detained and non-detained unaccompanied immigrant children. Prior to returning to NIJC, where she had served as an attorney with the Children's Project from 2008 to 2012, Alexandra completed a two-year clinical teaching fellowship at the Civitas ChildLaw Clinic at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. During the fellowship, she taught and supervised law students in the representation of child clients, and represented children in a variety of legal proceedings. Alexandra is a graduate of New York University School of Law and the University of Notre Dame, and is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
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.
Rachel Geissler is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2013 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.
Mary Georgevich is the LGBT project coordinator. Previously she was a paralegal with NIJC's 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 staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, 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. He also 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.
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.
Megan Helbling is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from North Park University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Spanish and Global Studies. She has traveled to Kosovo and India and studied abroad in Córdoba, Argentina. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked in Queens and Brooklyn, New York, as an immigration counselor and outreach specialist with Catholic Migration Services.
Molly Hesse is the associate director of resource development. Molly previously worked with various governmental and non-governmental organizations in Washington, DC, focusing on international humanitarian emergencies and gender rights. She received her B.A. in international studies and French from Illinois Wesleyan University and her M.A. in international relations from American University.
Ashley Huebner is the managing attorney of NIJC's 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. 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 paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project who also supports the coordination of NIJC’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project. She was previously 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. Prior to joining NIJC, 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.
Michaela Muresan is a Justice AmeriCorps fellow with the Asylum Project and represents unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. She previously worked for the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in Washington, DC, and she interned with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Immigration Project, and the Legal Assistance Foundation. She received her J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law and her B.A. in political science and French from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is licensed to practice in Illinois and in the District of Columbia.
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 a paralegal with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Prior to NIJC, Andrea worked as Chicago's outreach coordinator for Mil Mujeres Legal Services and also 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 working towards 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.
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.
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 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 Rubio is a paralegal for NIJC's Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Augustana College with a bachelor of arts in sociology with a concentration in anthropology. She also received a post-baccalaureate certificate from Roosevelt University in their paralegal studies program. Before joining NIJC, Jennifer worked at Latinos Progresando where she was a BIA-Accredited Representative.
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 staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law where she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow, and she received her Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Baylor University. Prior to law school, Amanda spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde working in education and community development.
Kevin Sullivan is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Kevin worked with unaccompanied immigrant youth in Heartland Alliance’s Youth & Residential Services centers. Kevin has also worked with World Relief Chicago and Catholic Charities to improve the opportunities available to immigrant and refugee communities in Chicago. Kevin studied abroad in Lima, Peru where he studied international aid and politics in Latin America. Kevin graduated from Miami University in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and international studies.
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.
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 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 has been published by Change.org, Huff Post Chicago, The Christian Science Monitor, RH Reality Check, 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 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.
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.
Shengxiao Yu is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Shengxiao worked in Costa Rica with Fundación CRUSA on renewable energy projects and with Bodhi Surf School on philanthropy projects. Previously, Shengxiao was part of the team building David Axelrod’s Institute of Politics, and served as a project manager for immigration projects at Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Young Center. Shengxiao holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago in comparative human development and human rights. During college, she worked with women entrepreneurs in Peru and for a public health NGO in the Dominican Republic.
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.