Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center's staff is composed of dedicated human rights activists from a broad range of advocacy and legal backgrounds. Our legal services staff includes licensed attorneys, paralegals, and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives.
Staff members can be contacted by email using the following format: [first initial][last name]@heartlandalliance.org.
Heidi Altman is the director of policy. Previously, she served as the legal director for the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, where she oversaw the provision of legal services to men, women, and children in immigration custody as well as the provision of training and resources to pro bono attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Heidi previously created the in-house immigration services program at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and served as a Teaching Fellow in the immigration clinic at Georgetown Law School. She regularly provides analysis of immigration laws and policy proposals to news outlets including VICE, CNN, The New York Times, and Politico. Heidi is a graduate of New York University School of Law.
Julissa Alvarez is a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Previously, Julissa worked as the front desk coordinator for Institute for Learning at BMO Financial Group. She received her bachelor’s degree from York University in Toronto, Ontario, majoring in political science. As an international student in Canada, she devoted most of her time engaging other international students through athletics and orientation programs. She interned with Filici-Palacio Immigration Services, Inc. and has experience working in the Canadian immigration system. She is currently working towards an ABA-approved Paralegal Certificate from Elgin Community College.
Michele Amatangelo is the resource development director. Michele previously served as a Sudan Program manager at USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives in Washington, D.C. Prior to USAID, she spent a number of years in the private sector and also served as an economic development volunteer in the Peace Corps in Honduras. She received a bachelor of science in finance from Boston College and an master's of science in foreign service with a certificate in refugee and humanitarian emergencies from Georgetown University.
Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney is the coordinator for the Federal Litigation Project at NIJC. She graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in linguistics, Spanish, and Arabic. During college, Sophie was involved with labor organizing on and off campus, often working with immigrant workers.
Brenda Benitez is a paralegal with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She graduated from Pomona College in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy analysis with a concentration in psychology. Previously, Brenda worked as an editor for Education Post, an education non-profit in Chicago, and interned at the Immigration Center for Women and Children in Los Angeles, CA. She plans on attending law school in the future and likes to paint in her free time.
Maria Blumenfeld is an Equal Justice Works fellow sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and Reed Smith LLP at NIJC’s Goshen, Indiana office. She was previously a justice AmeriCorps fellow with NIJC’s Asylum Project. Maria provides legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children and formerly detained families in Indiana. Maria graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor's of science in business and was a member of the International Honor Society in business, management and administration. She obtained her J.D. from Valparaiso University Law School and is licensed in the state of Indiana. Prior to joining NIJC, she participated in the Valparaiso Immigration Clinic where she represented asylum seekers and served as an interpreter for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases.
Gianna Borroto is a supervising attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Previously, Gianna was a staff attorney with the Children's and Immigrant Legal Defense Projects. She graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's of science in psychology. Gianna obtained her J.D. from Harvard Law School and is licensed in the state of Illinois. Prior to joining NIJC, she interned at Legal Services: NYC and the Department of Justice. She also participated in Harvard’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic, where she represented asylum seekers and asylees.
Laura Buttitta is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor's of arts in Spanish and international studies. During college, Laura studied international studies and development in Chile, and after graduation she spent a year in San Antonio, TX as a caseworker at Catholic Charities through the Jesuit Volunteer Program. Prior to joining NIJC, Laura taught English to unaccompanied immigrant children detained in Chicago and was a caseworker for immigrant families receiving pro bono legal services.
Hannah Cartwright is the senior detention attorney for NIJC's Adult Detention Project. Prior to joining NIJC, she served as a staff attorney in the detained program at the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center. Hannah also clerked for the Philadelphia Immigration Court as a part of the DOJ Honors Program. She graduated magna cum laude from Valparaiso University. She holds a Masters of Social Work and a Juris Doctor from the Catholic University of America. Hannah is licensed in the state of Maryland.
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.
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.
Vanessa Esparza-López is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, where she represents individuals before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Justice. Vanessa is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), where she currently serves on the Chicago AILA District Director Liaison committee. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 2009 and her Bachelor of Arts with honors in International Studies from DePaul University in 2006. During law school, Vanessa was the cofounder of a new student group, the Society for Asylum & Immigration Law.
Lya Ferreyra is a paralegal with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Lya graduated from Northwestern University with a major in social policy and a minor in English literature. As an undergraduate, she was involved in advocacy work for undocumented students. Lya served as a summer policy intern with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington D.C. and interned with NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative before joining as staff.
Mark Fleming is the associate director of litigation. Mr. Fleming focuses on strategic litigation and public policy related to immigration enforcement and detention. NIJC’s work on enforcement issues was recognized with the 2014 Daniel Levy Award of the National Immigration Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Mark was a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights focused on migrants' rights in the western hemisphere. In that capacity, he coordinated the Inter-American Commission's investigation into human rights concerns with U.S. immigration enforcement, detention, and due process detention's impact on due process. Mark graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center in 2006. While in law school, he worked on a host of immigrants' rights projects, including representing asylum seekers and coordinating a fact-finding mission to Ecuador to investigate the impacts of changes to U.S. immigration law on Colombian refugees. Mark is licensed by the State of New York.
Aneesha Gandhi is the supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Prior to joining NIJC, Aneesha was a legal fellow at the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Immigration Assistance Program. During law school she interned for NIJC, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, the Greater Boston Legal Services' Immigration Unit, and the Vera Institute. Aneesha currently serves on the board of the National Lawyers Guild and is a collective member of Chicago Desi Youth Rising. She holds a B.A. from Smith College and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. Aneesha is licensed in the state of Michigan.
Amanda Y. Garcia is a staff attorney under the NIJC Legal Protection Fund. Before joining NIJC, Amanda served as a pro bono attorney for NIJC’s Detention Project. She has practiced multiple areas of law including family, employment, and business. Prior to practicing immigration law, she served as a pastoral care volunteer for detained immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area. Amanda earned her J.D. at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in 2006 and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 2002.
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.
Joe Gietl is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project (ILD). Joe was most recently an ILD staff attorney, providing help desk screenings and legal representation for non-detained immigrants at the Chicago Immigration Court. Throughout law school, Joe worked at NIJC as a paralegal and BIA accredited representative with the VAWA/U Visa Pro Bono Project, the Post-Asylum Benefits & Citizenship Pro Bono Projects, and the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, he worked in Los Angeles, California, as a non-profit paralegal in the areas of immigration, government benefits, and tenant rights law. Joe received his undergraduate degree in International Affairs from Marquette University and earned his J.D. magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Ary Hansen is a paralegal with the Asylum Project. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science and minor in French and international studies. As an undergraduate, Ary studied abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. Previously, she interned with NIJC’s Asylum Project, as well as World Relief Chicago, the Center for Forced Migration Studies, Health Leads Chicago, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She speaks French and Spanish.
Veronica Portillo Heap is the 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.
Ashley Huebner is the managing attorney of NIJC's Asylum Project, which provides pro bono representation to more than 500 asylum seekers each year. Ashley conducts legal trainings and provides technical support to pro bono attorneys representing individuals seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and other relief through NIJC. She specializes in asylum issues related to gender-based claims and unaccompanied children and regularly speaks at national conferences regarding these and other asylum topics. Ashley is actively involved in impact litigation related to complex asylum issues, including gender and gang-based asylum claims, the particular social group definition, and the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. Ashley received her B.A. from Marquette University and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law.
Jesse Johnson is the Detention Project pro bono coordinator. Prior to joining NIJC, Jesse was a legal assistant supervisor at an immigration law firm where he worked on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), asylum, and all removal defense processes. As an undergraduate, he interned at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and studied abroad in Costa Rica. Jesse received his bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies with a concentration in immigration, and in English from Davidson College.
Elizabeth Juarez is the receptionist for NIJC’s office in downtown Chicago. She provides clerical and administrative support services, facilitates scheduling of intake appointments, and manages the reception area.
Hiroki Keaveney is NIJC's executive coordinator. Hiroki’s background is in community building with queer and trans people of color primarily on the West Coast. They earned their M.A. in ethnic studies from San Francisco State University, and B.A. in sociology from Seattle University.
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.
Eric Lopez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. He obtained his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law. While in law school, he worked as an advocate with La Línea, a hotline offering assistance to immigrants in Champaign County. He also participated in the foreclosure defense clinic and interned with the Speaker of the House, Michael J. Madigan’s Technical Review Unit in Springfield, IL. Prior to joining NIJC, Eric practiced law before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Ruth Lopez-McCarthy is a managing attorney with the Legal Protection Fund Project. Ruth holds over 14 years of experience in the immigration movement both locally and nationally. After working as an organizer in her local community in Chicago, Ruth obtained her J.D. from Chicago- Kent College of Law. Ruth has served as deputy field director with the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, coalition coordinator for the Northern Borders Coalition, and as the deputy legislative associate/legislative liaison for Field for the Alliance for Citizenship campaign in Washington, D.C. She joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as the comprehensive immigration reform implementation director in 2013 where she built the IL is READY Campaign in preparation for administrative relief. Ruth has worked as a consultant for national immigration advocacy organizations coordinating immigrant focused programs across the country. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
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).
Dominique Mejia is a paralegal with NIJC's Asylum Project working specifically with unaccompanied immigrant children and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases. She 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).
Kate Melloy Goettel is a litigation attorney in NIJC’s federal litigation unit. Prior to joining NIJC, Kate worked for seven years in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, most recently as senior litigation counsel. Kate has practiced in nearly 40 federal district courts, seven courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before joining DOJ, Kate clerked for two years for a U.S. District Judge. Kate graduated with distinction from the University of Iowa College of Law. During law school, she worked in the law school’s immigration clinic and interned in NIJC’s asylum project. Kate previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosrae, Micronesia. She is licensed by the state of Iowa.
Soledad Mendoza is a paralegal with NIJC's Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Soledad was a New Americans Democracy Project fellow with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In 2016, she graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor of arts in politics. Her independent work focused on Latino politics and her thesis explored restrictive state immigration laws and their effect on the naturalization patterns of Latinos. As an undergraduate, she tutored GED students through the Petey Greene Prison Tutoring Program, and was actively involved in an ESL teaching program and a student group that helped mentor high school Dreamers in Trenton.
Emily Metallic is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and international studies, and a minor in Spanish. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Valparaiso, Chile, interned with Catholic Charities Indianapolis Refugee and Immigrant Services, and volunteered as an ESL tutor for Volunteers in Teaching Adult Learners in Bloomington, IN. Following graduation, she spent a year in Paris caring for children as an au pair.
Daniel Morales is a paralegal with the Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Daniel worked with the National Center for Institutional Diversity on its higher education policy research and advocacy related to immigrant and refugee student access and outcomes. Daniel holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. During his time as a student he worked with the U-M Administration and other colleges and universities in the state of Michigan to reform their tuition and financial aid policies so as to create a viable path to higher education for undocumented students.
Courtney Moran is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the Immigration Court Helpdesk. Prior to joining NIJC, Courtney spent two years clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and two years clerking for the Omaha Immigration Court. Before that she received her law degree from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a student attorney in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Courtney received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Truman State University. She is licensed to practice law in California.
JuanCamilo Parrado is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project. JuanCamilo previously worked as a staff attorney at World Relief Chicago, where he represented a wide variety of cases including U visas, DACA, and citizenship applications, and managed the legal lead position for the New Americans Initiative at World Relief Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) majoring in French and Psychology. He also attended FSU College of Law, during which time he was a student attorney at the Public Interest Law Center immigration clinic and graduated with a certificate in international law. JuanCamilo was also a legislative assistant with the Florida Senate, where he worked on anti-human trafficking and healthcare legislation. He is barred in New York.
Guadalupe Perez is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Detention Project. Guadalupe graduated from Macalester College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law where she participated in various immigration clinics. During law school, Guadalupe was a Public Interest Law Initiative intern at NIJC with the Detention Project and an intern at Legal Assistance Foundation. Prior to law school, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan.
Irakere Picon is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Legal Protection Fund. Prior to joining NIJC, Irakere worked with the Community Activism Law Alliance and the Chicago Law and Education Foundation providing legal services to immigrant families across several Chicago neighborhoods including Little Village, Pilsen, Back of the Yards as well as in several Chicago high schools. Irakere earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and Italian from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his J.D. from Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) College of Law. While in law school, Irakere interned with NIU’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic, LAF, and competed in national moot court competitions. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Kate Ramos is a staff attorney with NIJC. Kate previously worked as an associate attorney for five years with a private immigration law firm. She obtained her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 2011 and her B.A. in history and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. During law school, she interned with NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and participated in the DePaul University Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. Kate is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Diana Rashid is a Berkeley Public Interest Law Fellow and attorney working with NIJC’s Detention Project. She provides legal representation to detained immigrants in their removal proceedings. Diana holds a B.A. in economics and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and obtained her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. While in law school, Diana was part of the International Human Rights Law Clinic and coordinated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Legal Services Program for undocumented students at UC Berkeley. Prior to starting law school, she was a community organizer with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy in Oakland. Diana is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.
Hannah Recht is a fellow with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project through Avodah, a year-long service corps. She graduated from Tufts University in 2016 with a double major in anthropology and environmental studies, and a minor in Latin American studies. During college, she studied abroad in Bolivia and worked with youth in Boston and Denver in urban farming employment programs. As part of the Avodah Service Corps, she will be spending time outside of work this year learning about the root causes of poverty in Chicago and the efforts to combat them.
Hillary Richardson is a staff attorney with NIJC’s Asylum Project, focusing her work on unaccompanied immigrant children and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Prior to joining NIJC, Hillary worked in family law at the Legal Assistance Foundation’s Children and Families Practice Group, and served as a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, Washington, where she provided legal orientation and removal defense for detained adults. Before attending law school, she worked as a paralegal and BIA accredited representative with NIJC’s Adult Detention project. Hillary holds a B.A. from Earlham College and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois.
Evan Ringel is an Avodah Fellow working with NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. He graduated cum laude from Williams College, with a major in political science, a concentration in Jewish studies, and a certificate in Spanish language and culture. As an undergraduate, he studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, researching how in the absence of judicial closure for the 1994 AMIA bombing, different physical sites of memory for the event express competing viewpoints on how the attack should be remembered.
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.
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.
Cristina Sandoval is the compliance and implementation specialist. She recently graduated from DePaul University with a bachelors of arts in Spanish and public law with a minor in sociology. She hopes to go to law school in the near future and become an immigration and criminal defense attorney.
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 a paralegal with NIJC’s Legal Protection Fund. Before joining NIJC, Tovia taught English in public schools in Chile more than a year. She received her bachelor’s degree with honors in sociology from University of Chicago in 2015.
Marie Silver is a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Marie received a B.S. in Spanish and a B.A. in communications from Northwestern University, and she graduated magna cum laude from DePaul University College of Law. While a law student, Marie interned at NIJC with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project, and at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She also participated in the DePaul Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic and the Human Rights Practicum in Chiapas, Mexico. Prior to law school, Marie worked as a senior case manager in the Heartland Alliance shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children and interned with the American Red Cross.
Amanda Crews Slezak is a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. She was previously a staff attorney in the Children’s Project. Amanda graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law where she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow. Prior to law school, Amanda spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde working in education and community development. She received her Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Baylor University.
Karolyn Talbert, associate director of legal services, provides leadership to NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and NIJC’s Self Help Desk at the Immigration Court. She provides legal representation to immigrants in removal proceedings and in applications for immigration benefits. As a former Equal Justice Works Fellow, Karolyn specialized in representing immigrant victims of notary fraud. Karolyn is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a frequent presenter on immigration law. Before joining NIJC, she was the attorney advisor for the Immigration Court in Chicago. Karolyn is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and is licensed in the state of Illinois.
Cindy Tapper is the associate director of resource development. Prior to joining NIJC, Cindy served as the assistant director of trustee engagement and communications for the University of Chicago. Cindy has a broad range of communications and development experience, having worked with many Chicago-based companies and organizations, including the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law where she managed the agency’s fundraising, outreach and external affairs efforts. She is a 2014 Fellow with the Association of Fundraising Professionals and a board member with Chicago Women in Philanthropy. She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication, as well as a M.S. in Public Service Management from DePaul University.
Angelicca Telles is a DOJ Accredited Representative with the Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD) Project and the Immigration Court Helpdesk. Prior to joining NIJC’s staff, Angelicca served as an intern with the ILD Project through AVODAH, a year-long service program. Angelicca studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco, where she conducted an independent project on non-government organizations and survivors of sexual assault in Morocco. She has interned with Women Employed, a nonprofit devoted to women’s economic equity in Chicago, and currently serves as a board member for the Farther Foundation. She graduated from Pomona College in 2015 with a dual bachelor’s degree in history and gender and women’s studies.
Trisha K. Teofilo Olave is a senior legal supervisor for NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense project. Prior to joining NIJC, Trisha was a BIA-Accredited representative at World Relief-Chicago and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. While at Catholic Charities, she supervised the Crime Victims Program, was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) coordinator and the pro bono coordinator. Trisha also worked as the senior legal assistant for a private immigration firm. She has participated in the VAWA/U Visa collaborative in Chicago since 2005. Trisha graduated magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago with an honors bachelor of arts degree in political science and minors in Spanish and international studies.
Naiara Testai is the University of Chicago Law Mikva Fellow working 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 a paralegal for NIJC’s Detention Project. Alice graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s of arts in political science, Spanish literature and international studies. During college, Alice studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she researched the migratory experiences of Peruvian and Paraguayan domestic workers. She was also the recipient of a two-year research fellowship to examine the gendered dimensions of the DACA application process at a Chicago-area legal clinic. Previously, she interned with NIJC’s Detention Project as well as Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Get IN Chicago.
Tara Tidwell Cullen is NIJC's director of communications. She works with the news media and leads NIJC's communications strategy and content development to tell stories about the need for fair and humane immigration laws. She helped launch and co-authored the inaugural reports for NIJC's Immigration Detention Transparency and Human Rights Project, which monitors the Department of Homeland Security's immigration detention contracting and inspections system. Tara previously was the managing editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University and a master’s in media, culture, and society from DePaul University. Her writing on human rights has been published by Change.org, Huffington Post , The Christian Science Monitor, Rewire, and Alternet.
Julia Toepfer is the marketing and online engagement manager at NIJC. Julia has more than ten years of experience working in nonprofit communications, management, and fundraising for organizations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. She has provided training and consulting services for nonprofits, unions, and organizations to strengthen their social media channels and develop impactful online campaigns. Prior to joining NIJC, Julia was a legal assistant for an immigration law firm in Boston, worked on a collaborative campaign to achieve in-state college tuition for immigrant students in Massachusetts, and worked on advancing human rights in Guatemala with the Chicago-based Health, Education and Relief Foundation. Julia attended Boston College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin American studies.
Ana Valenzuela is a staff attorney with NIJC's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. Ana received a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Northwestern University. She is a graduate of DePaul University College of Law where she participated in the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic. While a law student, Ana was an intern with LAF’s Immigration Project and an extern with NIJC’s Adult Detention Project. Prior to law school, Ana worked for six years as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Chicago.
Claudia Valenzuela is the Detention Project director 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.
Daniel Welsh is a paralegal with NIJC’s Immigrant Children's Protection Project. Prior to joining NIJC, Daniel served as an AmeriCorps member at Kentucky Equal Justice Center, where he helped manage a free clinic for immigrant victims of wage theft. In college, he studied in Peru with the School for International Training’s Indigenous Peoples and Globalization program. After graduating, he spent a year as a human rights observer in a northern Ecuadorian farming community plagued by mining conflict. Daniel holds a BA in anthropology and Spanish from DePauw University.
Sylvia Wolak is is the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project coordinator and a representative on the Immigrant Legal Defense Project. She supports the coordination of the project and provides direct support to attorneys working on U Visa and VAWA cases. Previously, she was a paralegal with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project and the U Visa/VAWA Pro Bono Project. Sylvia graduated with a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she taught English literature and composition to undergraduate students. While at UIC, she presented her work at academic conferences, organized academic panels and scholarly events, and studied French. She has also taught English in Madrid, Spain. Sylvia received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she majored in English and political science and minored in Spanish. She is fluent in Polish and Spanish, with conversational proficiency in French.
Keren Zwick is NIJC’s associate director of litigation and oversees the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. Keren co-chairs the committee of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) that acts as the liaison between government enforcement officials and private attorneys. She is also a key contributor to the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition. Keren has led or participated in federal litigation in seven different Circuit Courts and before the United States Supreme Court. Keren joined NIJC following two years of clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. While Keren was a law student at Columbia Law School, she successfully represented clients in the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic in both immigration and civil rights matters. Before law school, Keren attended the University of Chicago and worked as NIJC’s asylum project coordinator. Keren is licensed to practice law in Illinois.