Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center's staff is composed of dedicated human rights activists from a broad range of advocacy and legal backgrounds. Our legal services staff includes licensed attorneys, paralegals, and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives.
Staff members can be contacted by email using the following format: [first initial][last name]@heartlandalliance.org.
Heidi Altman is the director of policy. Previously, she served as the legal director for the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, where she oversaw the provision of legal services to men, women, and children in immigration custody as well as the provision of training and resources to pro bono attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Heidi previously created the in-house immigration services program at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and served as a Teaching Fellow in the immigration clinic at Georgetown Law School. She regularly provides analysis of immigration laws and policy proposals to news outlets including VICE, CNN, The New York Times, and Politico. Heidi is a graduate of New York University School of Law.
Julissa Alvarez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Julissa worked as the front desk coordinator for Institute for Learning at BMO Financial Group. She received her bachelor’s degree from York University in Toronto, Ontario, majoring in political science. As an international student in Canada, she devoted most of her time engaging other international students through athletics and orientation programs. She interned with Filici-Palacio Immigration Services, Inc. and has experience working in the Canadian immigration system. Julissa holds a Basic Vocational Specialist Paralegal certificate from Elgin Community College.
Michele Amatangelo is the resource development director. Michele previously served as a Sudan Program manager at USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives in Washington, D.C. Prior to USAID, she spent a number of years in the private sector and also served as an economic development volunteer in the Peace Corps in Honduras. She received a bachelor of science in finance from Boston College and an master's of science in foreign service with a certificate in refugee and humanitarian emergencies from Georgetown University.
Erika Asgeirsson is an Equal Justice Works/Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow with NIJC’s Counter-Trafficking Project. She provides direct representation and victims’ rights advocacy to survivors of human trafficking, and conducts outreach and training to improve early identification of trafficking survivors. Prior to joining NIJC, Erika was a legal fellow at Human Rights First, where she advocated for policies to combat hate crime. Before law school, she served as a community health development volunteer in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. She earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her B.A. from the George Washington University. She is licensed to practice law in New York.
Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney is the coordinator for the Federal Litigation Project at NIJC. She graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in linguistics, Spanish, and Arabic. During college, Sophie was involved with labor organizing on and off campus, often working with immigrant workers.
Erik Bingham is a DOJ Accredited Representative with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Erik taught English in Spain. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During college, Erik volunteered with the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center.
Madeline Birky is a paralegal working with the Asylum and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She graduated from Goshen College with a double major in Spanish and journalism. During college she studied abroad for a semester in Nicaragua and a semester in Spain. Prior to joining NIJC, Madeline was a medical interpreter with Goshen Health.
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.
Hannah Cartwright is the senior detention attorney for NIJC's Adult Detention Project. In addition to providing support to national pro bono projects, she also serves as a Qualified Representative for clients with serious mental health disorders identified by the Immigration Court through the National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP). Prior to joining NIJC, she served as a staff attorney in the detained program at the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, where she provided legal orientations and also represented NQRP clients. Hannah also clerked for the Philadelphia Immigration Court as a part of the DOJ Honors Program. She graduated with a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Valparaiso University and holds a Master of Social Work and a Juris Doctor from the Catholic University of America.
Hilary Chadwick is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Aon and Kirkland & Ellis. She leads the Counter-Trafficking Project’s initiative to increase identification and protection of survivors of human trafficking through direct representation, pro bono training, and educating service providers. Hilary has worked with trafficking survivors in Mexico City; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Chicago. Prior to joining NIJC, Hilary worked with survivors of gender-based violence at Tahirih Justice Center, and contributed to federal prosecutions of sex trafficking as an intern at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. Prior to law school, Hilary was the pro bono coordinator at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett and worked in Mexico City for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Hilary graduated from the Boston University School of Law, where she received the Warren S. Gilford Humanity and Law Prize.
Elaine Cleary is a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She has prior experience in VAWA and U-visa petitions, asylum claims, and employment-based immigration law. Elaine graduated in 2017 from Ohio State University with dual degrees in political science and economics.
Nadia Danilovich is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Nadia was a staff attorney at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, where she also represented unaccompanied immigrant children. Nadia received her bachelor's degree in anthropology and Spanish from Scripps College and her J.D. from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. During law school she participated in USC’s Immigration Clinic, and interned at NIJC, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and the Wage Justice Center. She is licensed to practice law in California
Isabel Dieppa is the communications coordinator at NIJC. Before joining NIJC, Isabel spent time working as a freelance journalist and theatre artist. She has written for HOWLROUND, UR Chicago, and is a regular contributor to BUST Magazine. In addition to her written work, she was the 2016 LinkUP artist at Links Hall and has worked with various Chicago-based theatre companies including Jackalope, Red Twist, Odd’s Bodkins, and the Public House Theatre. Isabel is an alumna of Indiana University and the School at Steppenwolf.
Camila Di Mauri is a Department of Justice Accredited Representative with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Camila worked at the Cook County Department of Corrections and The Voices and Faces Project. At this project, in partnership with End Demand Illinois, Camila worked on the Ugly Truth campaign - the first major anti-trafficking public service campaign in the United States. She piloted a version of “The Stories We Tell,” a testimonial-writing workshop for court involved girls who have survived gender-based violence and other human rights violations. Camila obtained a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado in Denver.
Morgan Drake is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Augustana College with a bachelor's of arts in anthropology and Spanish. During college, Morgan studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, and completed her BA thesis on the effects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has on the identities of young 1.5 generation Mexican immigrants. After graduating college, she worked as the Immigration Family Advocate at Casa Guanajuato in Moline, Illinois. Prior to joining NIJC, Morgan was an Interpreter/ELL Paraprofessional for Rockridge School District in Taylor Ridge, Illinois.
Diane Eikenberry is the associate director of policy. Before joining NIJC, she represented detained immigrant youth in their immigration cases and provided support and training to pro bono attorneys and community members as senior attorney for the Detained Children’s Program at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. Prior to that, Diane represented women survivors of gender-based violence at the Tahirih Justice Center. She is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School, where she served as a student attorney for the Immigration Clinic and interned at the Legal Aid Society of New York’s Immigration Law Unit and the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children. Before law school, Diane worked in public affairs for the firm Grisko in Chicago.
Lilia Escobar is a paralegal with NIJC’s Adult Detention Project. She received her bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College with majors in social work, sociology/anthropology, and race and ethnic studies. As an undergraduate, she interned at La Casa Norte in Chicago where she worked on non-profit development and at an organization in Minnesota where she aided with communications and direct service with youth and adults. She has completed various research projects ranging from understanding the narratives of low-income first-generation college students to exploring the voter turnout in multi-ethnic low-income counties in New Mexico.
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 associate director of litigation. Mr. Fleming focuses on strategic litigation and public policy related to immigration enforcement and detention. NIJC’s work on enforcement issues was recognized with the 2014 Daniel Levy Award of the National Immigration Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mark was a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights focused on migrants' rights in the western hemisphere. In that capacity, he coordinated the Inter-American Commission's investigation into human rights concerns with U.S. immigration enforcement, detention, and due process detention's impact on due process. Mark graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center in 2006. While in law school, he worked on a host of immigrants' rights projects, including representing asylum seekers and coordinating a fact-finding mission to Ecuador to investigate the impacts of changes to U.S. immigration law on Colombian refugees. Mark is licensed by the State of New York.
Nina Gagnon is the development associate at NIJC. Prior to working at NIJC, she worked in external relations at the Taproot Foundation. She graduated from Smith College in May of 2017 with a degree in French and religion. While in college she had internships with International Bridges to Justice in Geneva, Switzerland; Cathedral in the Night in Northampton, Massachusetts; and Heartland Alliance’s Marjorie Kovler Center here in Chicago.
Aneesha Gandhi is the supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Aneesha was a legal fellow at the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Immigration Assistance Program. During law school she interned for NIJC, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, the Greater Boston Legal Services' Immigration Unit, and the Vera Institute. Aneesha currently serves on the board of the National Lawyers Guild and is a collective member of Chicago Desi Youth Rising. She holds a B.A. from Smith College and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. Aneesha is licensed in the state of Michigan.
Amanda Y. Garcia is a staff attorney under the NIJC Legal Protection Fund. Before joining NIJC, Amanda served as a pro bono attorney for NIJC’s Detention Project. She has practiced multiple areas of law including family, employment, and business. Prior to practicing immigration law, she served as a pastoral care volunteer for detained immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area. Amanda earned her J.D. at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in 2006 and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 2002.
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. After graduating college, Alli was a bilingual teaching assistant for Urbana School District in Urbana, Illinois, and community organizer for Champaign-Urbana Immigration Form. Prior to joining NIJC, she was a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Chiapas, Mexico and worked a migrant shelter with asylum seekers.
Oswaldo Gomez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. He graduated from Lawrence University in 2018, with a degree in international relations and a minor in Latin American studies. Prior to NIJC, he interned at the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. where he helped edit the Institute’s academic journal. While attending university, he conducted field-research on security issues and youth empowerment in Sierra Leone, Morocco and Jamaica. He has also worked with local organizations like The Pilsen Alliance in fighting for reforms in affordable housing, education, and immigration.
Rebekah González is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Previously, Rebekah was the staff attorney on the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project of LAF. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts in biology and international studies and a minor in psychology. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago. Rebekah graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University College of Law and is admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
Veronica Portillo Heap is the LGBT Project Pro Bono Coordinator and DOJ Accredited Representative. Previously, she was a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. As an undergraduate, she interned at NIJC with the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project, as well as at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2015 with honors with a bachelor’s degree in history and gender and sexuality studies.
Angela Hernandez is a managing attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project (ILD). In addition to supervising a team of attorneys and paralegals, Angela oversees the Counter-Trafficking Project as well as manages the Citizenship and Post-Asylee/Refugee pro bono projects. Prior to law school, Angela worked at NIJC as a BIA accredited representative where she helped to launch NIJC's current VAWA/U Visa pro bono project. Following law school, Angela returned to NIJC contributing to the Children’s Project and later, leading the Counter-Trafficking Project. Angela has served as the director of the Domestic Violence Program at the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, staff attorney at CARECEN in Los Angeles, and senior staff attorney at The Door’s Legal Services Center in New York. Angela received her B.A. from University of Chicago and her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Brittany Herschberger is a paralegal working with the Asylum and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She graduated from Goshen College with a major in biology and secondary education and a minor in Spanish. During college she studied abroad in Guatemala. Prior to joining NIJC, Brittany was a teacher in the Goshen area and a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, where she worked with local English teachers in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program.
Jay Housgard is the pro bono coordinator with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Jay worked as a paralegal with Immigration Counseling Service, Oregon's largest non-profit immigration legal service provider. He graduated magna cum laude from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish in. He also received a master’s in teaching Spanish as a world language while living in Spain.
Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services, oversees NIJC's Asylum Project and immigrant children's programs. Ashley conducts legal trainings and provides technical support to pro bono attorneys representing individuals seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and other relief through NIJC. She specializes in asylum issues related to gender-based claims and unaccompanied children and regularly speaks at national conferences regarding these and other asylum topics. Ashley is actively involved in impact litigation related to complex asylum issues, including gender and gang-based asylum claims, the particular social group definition, and the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. Ashley received her B.A. from Marquette University and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law.
Lupita Jimenez-Hand is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She earned her J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law in May 2018 with a Certificate in Public Interest Law. While in law school, Lupita was an extern at NIJC on the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project, an intern at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, and, most recently, volunteered at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX. She sat for the IL Bar Exam in July and is awaiting results.
Jesse Johnson is the Detention Project’s pro bono coordinator and is a Department of Justice Fully Accredited Representative. Prior to joining NIJC, Jesse was a legal assistant supervisor at an immigration law firm where he worked on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), asylum, and all removal defense processes. As an undergraduate, he interned at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and studied abroad in Costa Rica. Jesse received his bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies with a concentration in immigration, and in English from Davidson College.
Elizabeth Juarez is the receptionist for NIJC’s office in downtown Chicago. She provides clerical and administrative support services, facilitates scheduling of intake appointments, and manages the reception area.
Colleen Kilbride is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Colleen was a paralegal at Catholic Charities Legal Services to Immigrants in Milwaukee, where she worked with victims of domestic violence on U visa and VAWA cases. She also worked at Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services in El Paso as a family-based immigration paralegal handling extreme hardship waiver cases and served as an ESL and citizenship instructor. Colleen graduated magna cum laude from Augustana College with a B.A. in Spanish. She received her J.D. with pro bono honors from Georgetown University Law Center and is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services, directs NIJC's asylum project, handles federal litigation, and provides representation and supervision in deportation defense matters. Lisa specializes in litigation, policy, and direct services advocacy on behalf of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. Lisa heads NIJC’s Indiana office and is an adjunct professor at Notre Dame Law School. Lisa graduated magna cum laude from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in 2004.
Tania Linares Garcia is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Federal Litigation Project and LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Tania served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Granger, Washington. She earned her J.D., magna cum laude, from Southern Illinois University. While in law school, Tania interned with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, the Illinois Innocence Project, and NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative.
Ruth Lopez-McCarthy is a managing attorney with the Legal Protection Fund Project. Ruth holds over 14 years of experience in the immigration movement both locally and nationally. After working as an organizer in her local community in Chicago, Ruth obtained her J.D. from Chicago- Kent College of Law. Ruth has served as deputy field director with the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, coalition coordinator for the Northern Borders Coalition, and as the deputy legislative associate/legislative liaison for Field for the Alliance for Citizenship campaign in Washington, D.C. She joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as the comprehensive immigration reform implementation director in 2013 where she built the IL is READY Campaign in preparation for administrative relief. Ruth has worked as a consultant for national immigration advocacy organizations coordinating immigrant focused programs across the country. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Ruben Loyo is a senior litigation attorney with NIJC's Federal Litigation Project. Ruben was previously a clinical teaching fellow at Yale Law School, where he worked with students in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and Immigration Legal Services Clinic. From 2012 to 2016, he was a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services in New York City, where he defended clients from deportation and detention as part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), the nation’s first universal representation program for detained immigrants facing deportation. Ruben previously clerked for the Honorable Solomon Oliver, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He is a graduate of NYU School of Law and Georgetown University, and is licensed in New York and New Jersey.
Karin Machalová is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Karin graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor's of arts in political science. She also received a Certificate in Business Anthropology from the College of Dupage. Prior to joining NIJC, she worked as an intern for Human Rights Watch and participated in New Leadership Illinois, a program hosted by the Conference of Women Legislators and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. She is fluent in Czech and Spanish.
Hena Mansori is the supervising attorney of the NIJC’s Adult Detention Project. Since joining NIJC in 2008, Hena has represented detained immigrants in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and Board of Immigration Appeals. In addition to supervising NIJC’s detention team, she also manages NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and provides trainings and consultations to criminal defense attorneys through NIJC’s Defender’s Initiative program. Hena works on all areas of immigration law as they pertain to detained immigrants but has a special interest in the intersection between criminal and immigration law. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2002 and her J.D. from NYU School of Law in 2006, where she was in NYU’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Mary Meg McCarthy is the executive director of Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), one of the nation’s leading immigrant and human rights advocacy organizations. Under Mary Meg’s leadership, NIJC has become a leading immigrant and human rights advocacy organization, contributing to national and international analysis, debate and reform of immigration law, policy, and practices. She has built a network of 1,500 pro bono attorneys who are essential to providing legal services to thousands of individuals each year. An expert in immigration law, Mary Meg has testified before Congress and is quoted often in major news outlets such as MSNBC, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining NIJC, she practiced civil litigation and was an NIJC pro bono attorney. Earlier in her career she worked in local communities in Chile to help safeguard the rights of individuals under a dictatorship. Mary Meg has been honored with several awards including: American Constitution Society Chicago Lawyer Chapter Ruth Goldman Award (July 2015), Chicago Inn of Court 2015 Don Hubert Public Service Award, Pax Christi 2013 Teacher of Peace Award, and the Damen Award from Loyola University (June 2015).
Katherine "Rin" Meehan is the executive coordinator for NIJC. Previously, she worked in the Illinois Department of Human Service’s Office of Grants Administration. Katherine graduated cum laude from DePaul University in 2017 with a degree in political science, as well as a minor in Spanish.
Dominique Mejia is a paralegal with NIJC's Asylum Project working specifically with unaccompanied immigrant children and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases. Dominique graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in sociology with a concentration in social inequality, and with minors in Latin@ studies and psychology. As an undergraduate, Dominique traveled to the Dominican Republic to study human rights violations and interned with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
Rachel Milos is a senior attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Before joining NIJC, Rachel clerked for Judge Bauer of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and worked as a public defender in Colorado, handling juvenile criminal appeals. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University and her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law.
Kate Melloy Goettel is a litigation attorney in NIJC’s federal litigation unit. Prior to joining NIJC, Kate worked for seven years in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, most recently as senior litigation counsel. Kate has practiced in nearly 40 federal district courts, seven courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before joining DOJ, Kate clerked for two years for a U.S. District Judge. Kate graduated with distinction from the University of Iowa College of Law. During law school, she worked in the law school’s immigration clinic and interned in NIJC’s asylum project. Kate previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosrae, Micronesia. She is licensed by the state of Iowa.
Soledad Mendoza is a paralegal with NIJC's Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Soledad was a New Americans Democracy Project fellow with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In 2016, she graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor of arts in politics. Her independent work focused on Latino politics and her thesis explored restrictive state immigration laws and their effect on the naturalization patterns of Latinos. As an undergraduate, she tutored GED students through the Petey Greene Prison Tutoring Program, and was actively involved in an ESL teaching program and a student group that helped mentor high school Dreamers in Trenton.
Emily Metallic is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and international studies, and a minor in Spanish. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Valparaiso, Chile, interned with Catholic Charities Indianapolis Refugee and Immigrant Services, and volunteered as an ESL tutor for Volunteers in Teaching Adult Learners in Bloomington, IN. Following graduation, she spent a year in Paris caring for children as an au pair.
Vivian Millan is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, she represented clients in dissolution of marriage and parentage cases in the Cook County Domestic Relations Division, was a paralegal with Orlando Center for Justice where she worked with victims of domestic violence on VAWA cases and with individuals seeking asylum, and was a legal assistant at a personal injury firm. Vivian graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies. She received her J.D. from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she participated in the school’s family law clinic. Vivian is licensed to practice in Illinois.
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.
Tim Myers is a staff attorney for NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. After law school, Tim worked as a city prosecutor for the City of Chicago, prosecuting people for criminal and quasi-criminal violations of the Chicago Municipal Code. After that, Tim worked as a staff attorney for Community Activism Law Alliance, coordinating the Sex Workers Outreach Project legal clinic for sex workers and the Organized Communities Against Deportation legal clinic for people in removal proceedings. Tim was also legal director at Chicago Law & Education Foundation, where he managed eight community legal clinics and provided know your rights presentations for low-income students and families at Chicago Public Schools. Tim went to undergrad at Marquette University and went to law school at Ohio State University.
JuanCamilo Parrado is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. JuanCamilo previously worked as a staff attorney at World Relief Chicago, where he represented a wide variety of cases including U visas, DACA, and citizenship applications, and managed the legal lead position for the New Americans Initiative at World Relief Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) majoring in French and Psychology. He also attended FSU College of Law, during which time he was a student attorney at the Public Interest Law Center immigration clinic and graduated with a certificate in international law. JuanCamilo was also a legislative assistant with the Florida Senate, where he worked on anti-human trafficking and healthcare legislation. He is barred in New York.
Guadalupe Perez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. Guadalupe graduated from Macalester College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law where she participated in various immigration clinics. During law school, Guadalupe was a Public Interest Law Initiative intern at NIJC with the Detention Project and an intern at Legal Assistance Foundation. Prior to law school, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan.
Irakere Picon is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Irakere worked with the Community Activism Law Alliance and the Chicago Law and Education Foundation providing legal services to immigrant families across several Chicago neighborhoods including Little Village, Pilsen, Back of the Yards as well as in several Chicago high schools. Irakere earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and Italian from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his J.D. from Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) College of Law. While in law school, Irakere interned with NIU’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic, LAF, and competed in national moot court competitions. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Kate Ramos is a staff attorney with NIJC. Kate previously worked as an associate attorney for five years with a private immigration law firm. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 2011 and her B.A. in history and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. During law school, she interned with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and participated in the DePaul University Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. Kate is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Diana Rashid is a supervising attorney working with NIJC’s Detention Project. She provides legal representation to detained immigrants in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. As part of NIJC’s Defender Initiative Program, Diana advises federal and state public defenders on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. 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. Diana is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Hillary Richardson is a supervising attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project, focusing her work on unaccompanied immigrant children and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Prior to joining NIJC, Hillary worked in family law at the Legal Assistance Foundation’s Children and Families Practice Group, and served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, Washington, where she provided legal orientation and removal defense for detained adults. Before attending law school, she worked as a paralegal and BIA accredited representative with NIJC’s Adult Detention project. Hillary holds a B.A. from Earlham College and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Mary Roche is the compliance and coordination supervisor for NIJC's Children's Protection Project. Previously, she worked with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project as a BIA-Accredited Representative. Mary graduated with honors from Tulane University in 2007 with a bachelor of arts in Latin American studies and art history. Before coming to NIJC, Mary taught ESL at Poder Learning Center in Chicago. She has also studied and taught in Spain and worked as a citizenship volunteer.
Cristina Rodriguez is the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project paralegal and a representative on the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Cristina graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s of arts in Anthropology and Sociology. Prior to joining NIJC, Cristina was a youth development program coordinator for Peace Corps Costa Rica. During college, Cristina studied abroad in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where she researched the effects of tourism on the environment. She also received a two-year research fellowship to examine self-empowerment in immigrant women seeking immigration benefits in Chicago. Previously, she interned with the Immigration Department at Catholic Charities as well as The Ronald E. McNair Research Program.
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.
Lydia Ruddick-Schulman is an Avodah Fellow working with NIJC's Adult Detention Project. Lydia graduated from Brandeis University with majors in sociology and international studies and a minor in Hispanic studies. As an undergrad, Lydia studied abroad in Chile where she researched the political and socioeconomic effects of the former dictatorship.
Kimberly Ruesch is a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously she worked in universities in Colombia and Mexico as an English teacher. She is a graduate of Boise State University with a degree in English linguistics and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies at DePaul University.
Robyn Schuster is chief operations officer for the National Immigrant Justice Center. She previously served as senior director of operations at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and as a consultant to nonprofit organizations and boards. Prior to working in the non-profit sector, Robyn was a litigator with Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C. In addition to working on nationwide multidistrict litigation, she completed a loaned associate rotation in the housing unit of D.C. Legal Aid and maintained an active pro bono practice. She clerked for the Honorable Sarah Evans Barker in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Robyn graduated from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where she served as editor of the Federal Communications Law Journal.
Anna Sears is the Asylum and Pro Bono Coordinator at NIJC. She provides direct support to attorneys representing asylum seekers through NIJC, in addition to coordinating training and outreach opportunities for interested pro bono attorneys. Before coming to NIJC, she worked as a case manager for refugee resettlement with Catholic Charities in Buffalo, New York. Anna obtained a master’s degree in International Relations and Arabic from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. She received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from Wesleyan University.
Tovia Siegel is the Compliance and Implementation Specialist for the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Before joining NIJC, Tovia taught English in public schools in Chile more than a year. She received her bachelor’s degree with honors in sociology from University of Chicago in 2015.
Marie Silver is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project, where she represents unaccompanied immigrant children in their removal proceedings and applications for relief. 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 NIJC’s Asylum Project, where she represents adults, children, and families seeking asylum and other relief before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Chicago Immigration Court. She was previously a supervisor with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection 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.
Romelia Solano is a paralegal with NIJC's Detention Project. She holds an M.A. in political science from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. in political science and Latino studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a graduate student she coauthored and published research on Latino civic engagement. She has served immigrant populations as a volunteer at the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, and as an investigative assistant at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
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 senior legal supervisor for NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project. Prior to joining NIJC, Trisha was a BIA-Accredited representative at World Relief-Chicago and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. While at Catholic Charities, she supervised the Crime Victims Program, was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) coordinator and the pro bono coordinator. Trisha also worked as the senior legal assistant for a private immigration firm. She has participated in the VAWA/U Visa collaborative in Chicago since 2005. Trisha graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago with an honors bachelor of arts degree in political science and minors in Spanish and international studies.
Naiara Testai is a staff attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Naiara graduated with honors from the University of Chicago with a degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies. Previously, she was a policy fellow with NIJC before obtaining her J.D. at the University of Chicago. In law school, Naiara served as a child advocate for unaccompanied immigrant children through the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, for which she was awarded the Edwin F. Mandel Award for her contribution to the law school’s clinical program, and volunteered with the International Refugee Assistance Project and Latinos Progresando. Prior to graduating, she returned to NIJC as a volunteer for the U Visa clinic and as an Equal Justice America intern with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Naiara is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Alice Thompson is the Legal Orientation Program coordinator for NIJC’s Detention Project. Alice graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s of arts in political science, Spanish literature, and international studies. During college, Alice studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she researched the migratory experiences of Peruvian and Paraguayan domestic workers. She was also the recipient of a two-year research fellowship to examine the gendered dimensions of the DACA application process at a Chicago-area legal clinic. Previously, she was a paralegal with NIJC's Detention Project.
Tara Tidwell Cullen is NIJC's director of communications. She works with the news media and leads NIJC's communications strategy and content development to tell stories about the need for fair and humane immigration laws. She helped launch and co-authored the inaugural reports for NIJC's Immigration Detention Transparency and Human Rights Project, which monitors the Department of Homeland Security's immigration detention contracting and inspections system. Tara previously was the managing editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University and a master’s in media, culture, and society from DePaul University. Her writing on human rights has been published by Change.org, Huffington Post , The Christian Science Monitor, Rewire, and Alternet.
Julia Toepfer is the marketing and online engagement manager at NIJC. Julia has more than ten years of experience working in nonprofit communications, management, and fundraising for organizations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. She has provided training and consulting services for nonprofits, unions, and organizations to strengthen their social media channels and develop impactful online campaigns. Prior to joining NIJC, Julia was a legal assistant for an immigration law firm in Boston, worked on a collaborative campaign to achieve in-state college tuition for immigrant students in Massachusetts, and worked on advancing human rights in Guatemala with the Chicago-based Health, Education and Relief Foundation. Julia attended Boston College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin American studies.
Ana Valenzuela is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She also supervises the Immigration Court Helpdesk. Ana represents immigrants in removal proceedings and in applications for immigration benefits. She 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 at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). Claudia joined NIJC in 2002 as an Equal Justice Works fellow. Claudia presently oversees NIJC’s adult detention project, which provides legal education and services to individuals in DHS custody, as well as NIJC’s Defenders Initiative, which provides technical support to criminal defense attorneys representing foreign-born defendants. Claudia’s work at NIJC has centered on issues impacting individuals in Department of Homeland Security custody facing deportation, including due process challenges to removal orders, as well as unlawful detention and conditions of detention. Claudia is also a contributor to NIJC’s Immigration Detention Transparency and Human Rights Project, which aims to expose the lack of transparency and accountability in the immigration detention system. Claudia is a graduate of DePaul University College of Law.
Lee VanderLinden is a staff attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lee graduated with a degree in politics from Princeton University and obtained their J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. While in law school, Lee interned with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Irish International Immigrant Center, the People’s Law Office, and NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lee is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Sylvia Wolak is the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project Coordinator and a DOJ Accredited Representative on the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She provides direct support to pro bono attorneys working on U Visa and VAWA cases, and coordinates training and outreach opportunities. Sylvia graduated with a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also taught English literature and composition courses to undergraduate students, and organized academic panels and scholarly events. Sylvia received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she majored in English and political science and minored in Spanish. She is fluent in Polish and Spanish, with basic proficiency in French.
Keren Zwick is NIJC’s associate director of litigation and oversees the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Keren co-chairs the committee of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) that acts as the liaison between government enforcement officials and private attorneys. She is also a key contributor to the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition. Keren has led or participated in federal litigation in seven different Circuit Courts and before the United States Supreme Court. Keren joined NIJC following two years of clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. While Keren was a law student at Columbia Law School, she successfully represented clients in the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic in both immigration and civil rights matters. Before law school, Keren attended the University of Chicago and worked as NIJC’s asylum project coordinator. Keren is licensed to practice law in Illinois.