Meet the fellows

Immigrant Justice Corps’ inaugural class of 35 was selected from more than 500 applicants. Together, our fellows speak 15 languages, and bring a wealth of personal and professional immigration experience to the fellowship. Read their biographies below.

Gloria Chacon

  • New York Law School
  • Spanish- and French-speaker

Gloria and her family’s decision to leave their native Honduras and immigrate to the United States in search of a better future in the United States shaped her decision to advocate for low-income immigrants. Her trilingual skill set, her experience representing immigrants at the Legal Aid Society, Human Rights First and Kids in Need of Defense, and her deep passion to help the underserved prepare her for her work as an IJC Fellow.

Janice Chua

  • Fordham University School of Law
  • Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaker

Janice’s desire to pursue immigrants’ rights work started with her own immigration experience when she moved from Hong Kong to the United States at age 11. Before and during law school, she dedicated herself to promoting economic justice and community development, and to fighting to protect the rights of victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, or the mentally disabled. She accomplished this through working at the National Employment Law Project, LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and MinKwon Center for Community Action, and as a participant in Fordham’s Community Economic Development Clinic. These experiences drive her passion and have honed her skills as a fierce and determined advocate.

Scott Coomes

  • Harvard Law School

Scott became interested in immigrants’ rights while tutoring English Language Learners who worked at his college campus, as he learned about their lack of access to legal help when faced with exploitation. After representing various clients in need of immigration assistance or post-foreclosure eviction defense while participating in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee and Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense Clinics at Harvard Law School, he is eager to continue to provide high-quality legal representation to immigrants as an IJC Fellow.

Stephanie Cordero

  • Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

As an immigrant from Ecuador herself, Stephanie knows first-hand what it takes to overcome the many obstacles new immigrants face in the U.S. Her immigrant experience has shaped her commitment to serve and empower the immigrant community. She seeks to serve this community as a way to share the privilege of having had access to a legal education, and as a way to give back to the community that supported her upbringing. She has prepared herself for her work as an IJC fellow by participating in Cardozo’s Immigration Justice Clinic and interning at LatinoJustice, PRLDEF and the immigration practices of the East Bay Community Law Center and the Brooklyn Defender Services.

Scott Foletta

  • Brooklyn Law School
  • Spanish-speaker

Scott’s dedication to immigrants’ rights began with organizing with immigrant communities for economic justice in Santa Cruz, California and post-Katrina New Orleans, and continued with policy work at the Center for Popular Democracy and ROC-NY, impact litigation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and successful representation of an asylum-seeker. His own experiences with his immigrant spouse’s path to citizenship underscored the difficulty of finding immigration counsel that is both competent and affordable, and have inspired him to provide dedicated and empowering advocacy that all aspiring Americans deserve.

Miriam Lacroix

  • Pace University Law School
  • Haitian Creole-speaker

As a Student Attorney at the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace Law School, Miriam used her compassion and client communication skills to build a deep trust with her client. As a result, she was able to help her client obtain asylum and thus protect her daughters from the female genital mutilation they would have been subjected to in her home country. The child of a Haitian immigrant herself, Miriam understands the harsh realities that complex immigration laws present for individuals and their families, and looks forward to delivering deeply needed, high-quality legal services to immigrants.

Palmer Lawrence

  • University of Michigan Law School
  • Spanish- and French-speaker

Researching international policy and working with asylum seekers in South Africa and survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia exposed Palmer to the extreme legal and social vulnerability of migrant populations. She spent the past year working as a fellow at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. She is inspired by the resiliency and hope displayed by many of her clients, and sees increased access to counsel as part of the growing immigrants’ rights movement.

Luis Mancheno

  • Roger Williams University School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

Luis’ first immigrant representation win was his own—after fleeing persecution in Ecuador, Luis represented himself and won asylum in the United States. During law school, he devoted himself to immigrant representation by interning at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Washington, D.C., and participating in the Roger Williams University Immigration Clinic. He then spent one year working at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona, where he advocates for immigrants who are detained, facing deportation, and cannot afford an attorney.

Edward McCarthy

  • Yale Law School
  • Spanish-speaker

Ed’s father, a public interest attorney, was influential in his decision to dedicate his career to fighting for the underserved. While at Yale Law School, Ed seized as many opportunities as he could to represent immigrant clients in need. He participated in the Capital Punishment and Domestic Violence legal clinics. He spent a year providing legal services in Mexico. Ed received a post-graduate Arthur Liman Fellowship to provide immigration services at a public defender’s office. He is currently finishing a judicial clerkship for the Honorable Victor Marrero of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and is thrilled to return to advocate exclusively on behalf of this underserved community as an IJC fellow.

Sean Lai McMahon

  • New York University School of Law

Sean’s interest in immigrant representation stems from a desire to help immigrant communities build the power and resources they need to succeed in the U.S. He worked on access to healthcare and employment for immigrants in Oakland, California, and directly represented immigrants as a student attorney in the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and an intern at Make the Road New York. These professional experiences, together with his personal experiences growing up in a South Asian and Irish immigrant family, drive Sean’s belief that a person’s immigration status should not be a barrier to prosperity and equal rights in American society.

Caitlin Miner-Le Grand

  • Yale Law School
  • Spanish-speaker

Caitlin’s interest in advocating for immigrant rights stems from a long history of cross-cultural communication, which began when she attended Milwaukee’s first two-way bilingual public elementary school. Her Spanish fluency facilitated work with a non-profit in Argentina, and then at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. While at Yale Law School, she participated in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Upon completion of her judicial clerkship for Magistrate Judge James Francis of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Caitlin looks forward to harnessing her skills in order to serve New York City’s immigrant communities.

Nhu-Y Ngo

  • UCLA School of Law
  • Vietnamese-speaker

Nhu-Y’s desire to be an immigration attorney and advocate is informed by a mix of personal and professional experiences. An immigrant herself, she is the daughter of limited English proficient, working-class parents. She has been an advocate on behalf of asylum seekers and low-income tenants at Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, respectively. She has also worked as a policy associate at some of the nation’s leading think tanks for social justice, such as the Brennan Center for Justice and the Migration Policy Institute, and for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Nhu-Y has structured her career around a common goal of empowerment of immigrant communities and is excited to continue on this path as an IJC fellow.

Kendal Nystedt

  • New York University School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Kendal came of political consciousness while the federal government was militarizing the Tucson sector of the U.S.-Mexico border and Arizona was targeting its own Latino and immigrant communities at the polls, in institutions of higher education, at public benefits offices, workplaces, jails, and on the streets. As a result, she is committed to serving the immigrant-led movement to build power and has developed tools to do so while at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Make the Road New York, and the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic.

Wilson Osorio

  • American University Washington College of Law
  • Spanish- and French-speaker

Wilson was born and raised in Honduras. When he moved to the United States as a teenager, he had to overcome many challenges to integrate into his new community, to learn the English language, and to navigate the complex immigration system. His own immigration experience motivated him to go to law school to pursue a career in immigration law to ensure that other immigrants have access to justice. Wilson utilized his time at the American University Washington College of Law to best prepare himself for such a career by participating in the Immigrant Justice Clinic and interning at the Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Karla Ostolaza

  • Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

Karla’s commitment to immigrants’ rights began when she learned that on any given day 34,000 persons are held in detention in the United States without a recognized right to appointed counsel, solely based on their immigration status. Karla has worked as an immigrant advocate in Cardozo’s Immigration Justice Clinic, and the immigration practices of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and the Legal Aid Society. Karla is dedicated to a career where she can develop concrete strategies aimed at improving the quality of life for these marginalized members of society. Having only left her native Puerto Rico after graduating from college, Karla brings a unique perspective to her work as an immigrant advocate, as she is a new New Yorker herself.

Katherine Park

  • Columbia Law School
  • Mandarin- and Korean-speaker

The sacrifices made by her grandmother—an immigrant from Korea dedicated to providing better economic opportunities to the next generations—are what inspired Katherine to work as an immigrant advocate. To prepare her for this work, she sought out internship experiences at The Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Asian Women’s Center, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She also participated in Columbia’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. As an IJC fellow, Katherine seeks to convey the message to non-citizens that their families, their jobs, and their statuses in the U.S. are worthy of protection and respect.

Amy Pont

  • New York University School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

Amy’s commitment to immigrant justice stems from her childhood. Her family faced significant obstacles in obtaining employment and education when they emigrated from Colombia, and growing up she witnessed similar challenges faced by others in her community. These experiences called Amy to action. Through her work in NYU’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the American Civil Liberties Union, she has provided direct representation in immigration court, impact litigation against racial profiling, and policy advocacy. While at NYU, she was a recipient of the Bickel and Brewer Scholarship, awarded to students who will devote their legal careers to serving members of Latino and immigrant communities.

Rebecca Popuch

  • University of California Berkeley School of Law
  • Spanish-speaker

Rebecca’s commitment to social justice runs deep. She has ample work experience in immigrant communities as a teacher, tutor, advocate for survivors of domestic violence, community organizer, and legal advocate at organizations such as the Public Counsel Law Center Immigrants’ Rights Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). She also has lived and worked in Central America. Rebecca is drawn to the IJC’s path-breaking vision of an immigration system where all immigrants, regardless of their means, have access to justice.

Emily Puhl

  • University of California Berkeley School of Law
  • Spanish-, Portuguese-, and French-speaker

Growing up in Iowa, Emily saw how immigrant families revitalized the state’s aging communities and economies, but also the way that that deportation, detention, and workplace immigration enforcement destroyed families. Emily has devoted her professional life to helping immigrant families overcome these obstacles in United States. She has obtained a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, San Diego and relevant work experience with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and Dolores Street Community Services. As a lawyer, Emily will provide much-needed representation to immigrants navigating the legal system.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick

  • Georgetown University Law Center
  • Spanish-speaker

Aaron was first inspired to represent immigrants after reading the letters from immigrant families that he received as a college intern at the Office of Senator Hillary Clinton. He later witnessed the critical difference he made preventing his client from being returned to a country where he would face political persecution, while participating in his immigration clinic, the Center for Applied Legal Studies, at Georgetown Law. He is committed to helping New York City immigrants through his creative strategies and compassionate approach.

Jessica Rofé

  • New York University School of Law
  • Spanish- and French-speaker

Jessica grew up in an interracial, interfaith household, in the heart of a thriving immigrant community in Southern California. While teaching for four years in New York City public high schools and obtaining a master’s degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from Fordham University, she saw first-hand how immigration status affected all aspects of her students’ and their families’ lives, including academic performance, access to social services, and community participation. Her experiences teaching led her to participate in the NYU Immigrant Rights clinic and to intern at the New York Civil Liberties Union on their initiative to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. As a member of the Immigrant Justice Corps, Jessica looks forward to helping provide immigrants and their families with the supports necessary to access opportunities for economic and social mobility.

Faiza Sayed

  • Columbia Law School
  • Urdu- and Hindi-speaker

After her family immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, via Canada, and benefited from the invaluable legal assistance of a non-profit organization, Faiza decided that she wanted to pursue a legal career that would allow her to assist other immigrants in a similar capacity. She has channeled this desire by doing both impact litigation and direct legal services at the NAACP, ACLU Immigrant Rights’ Project, the Legal Aid Society, and in a post-graduate Kirkland & Ellis fellowship at Her Justice (formerly inMotion, Inc.). Faiza comes to the IJC after completing a judicial clerkship with the Honorable Kimba M. Wood of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Michael Shannon

  • Boston College Law School
  • Spanish-, French-, and Pulaar-speaker

Michael attributes his commitment to immigrants’ rights to his mother, a long-time public school teacher, and his father, an active member of the Civil Rights movement. They instilled in Michael a belief in human dignity, and a respect for different cultures. He has represented asylum seekers in various contexts, for example, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second and Ninth Circuits through Boston College’s Federal Appeals Clinic and in Ecuador, with Asylum Access Ecuador. Before law school, he served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. These diverse past experiences, together with the qualities instilled in him by his parents, will serve him well as he represents low-income immigrants as an IJC Fellow.

Tanika Vigil

  • Harvard Law School
  • Spanish-speaker

From a young age, starting in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Tanika has immersed herself in diverse and multifaceted immigrant communities. Living abroad in Latin America exposed her to the other half of the “immigration experience”: families commonly missing husbands, brothers, and fathers who had left seeking opportunities in the United States. She credits these cross-cultural experiences and exposure as the driving forces behind her desire to fight for immigrants’ rights today. This passion is complemented by the tangible skills she developed as the President of, and practitioner in, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and together they prepare her to be an IJC Fellow.

Dave Wilkins

  • Georgetown University Law Center
  • Spanish-speaker

Dave has been exposed to multiple perspectives within the immigration system. He has represented detained immigrants in the Washington D.C. area while working in the Center for Applied Legal Studies clinic at Georgetown Law and at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and has interned with the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review. He found it humbling to counsel his asylum-seeking client through a situation with such high stakes, and inspiring to work with someone who had persevered and stayed so positive despite having suffered such a great deal. Dave recognizes the vulnerability and extreme challenges that immigrants in our legal system can face, and is committed to dedicating his life to working on their behalf.

Alain Balan

  • New York University, Bachelor of Arts, English
  • Haitian Creole-speaker

The son of Haitian immigrants, Alain was raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Witnessing poor academic performance in his local schools sparked his interest in social justice, with a focus on strengthening immigrant communities such as his own via access to higher education. Alain enrolled in the Opportunity Programs, a scholarship program that assists economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students at NYU. During his time in college, Alain sought out leadership roles within the Black Student Union and the Academic Achievement Program which provided platforms for his community-building, peer advocacy, and mentorship to other students of color. In 2013, Washington Square News (NYU News) selected him as one of the “Top 10 Influential Students” of the university. He was also awarded the “Martin Luther King Jr./Malcolm X Leadership Award” by NYU’s Center for Multicultural Education Programs.

Mili Chapado

  • Florida State University, Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and International Affairs
  • Spanish-speaker

Mili’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was eight and settled in Lake Worth, FL. She was first introduced to student activism through the Palm Beach State College chapter of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), where she served as Core-Leader and advocated for the DREAM Act. Mili then transferred to Florida State University on a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, where she continued social justice work as a Young People For fellow and as Policy Chair of Advocates for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Most recently, she participated in the successful Florida Tuition Equity Campaign, the movement to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students in Florida. Mili’s experiences as a DACAmented youth inspire her to continue working for underserved communities.

Karla Diaz

  • University of California San Diego, Bachelor of Arts, Economics
  • Spanish-speaker

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Karla grew up in the San Diego-Tijuana region where she was inspired by the experiences of her family, friends, and community to become an advocate for immigrants’ rights. This interest deepened when she interviewed migrants in California and Oaxaca, Mexico as part of UC San Diego’s Mexican Migration Field Research Program. Karla’s research experience focused on the lived experiences of young immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. She aspires to pursue a graduate degree in public policy and dedicate her career to alleviating the socioeconomic inequities prevalent in immigrant communities.

Kimberly Fayette

  • Brown University, Bachelor of Arts, Public Policy and American Institutions
  • Haitian Creole-speaker

The child of Haitian immigrants, Kimberly has a direct understanding of the challenges facing immigrants in the United States. As a student at Brown University, Kimberly undertook internships that informed and strengthened her commitment to social justice. In 2012, she received the Happy and John Hazen White, Sr. internship award from the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown. This award enabled her to volunteer with the Juvenile Justice Project at Rhode Island for Community and Justice, which seeks to decrease the presence of young people of color in the juvenile justice system. She has also volunteered as an SAT tutor to low-income high-school students, many of whom were from immigrant families. Her prior experiences in the education and criminal justice sectors, combined with her family’s immigrant experience, have prepared her for her advocacy as an IJC fellow.

Allison Gao

  • Franklin & Marshall College, Bachelor of Arts, Public Health
  • Mandarin-, Cantonese- and Fujianese-speaker

Allison and her family moved to the United States from China when she was nine years old. Her personal experiences as an immigrant living in the Lower East Side’s Chinatown inspired her to work with people from underserved communities. Her interest drove her to intern at the Harlem United Community AIDS Center where she conducted street-based outreach to connect potential clients to clinical services. While in school, she also participated in the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to prepare free tax returns for low and moderate income families. Allison is a Posse Scholar who received a full-tuition, merit-based scholarship through the Posse Foundation to attend Franklin & Marshall College.

Laura Garbes

  • Tufts University, Bachelor of Arts, Psychology & Spanish
  • Spanish-speaker

Laura’s commitment to immigrant advocacy work developed while teaching English and citizenship classes to community members in Medford, MA while studying at Tufts University. Her dedication to immigrants’ rights deepened as a summer fellow at LIFT-New York, where she witnessed how the challenges faced by low-income New Yorkers were exacerbated due to their undocumented immigration status. Laura also interned at the Massachusetts State House, where she learned more about immigration reform and policy. As a volunteer at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, she helped immigrants in the Greater Boston area complete and review their immigration applications. She is looking forward to continue engaging in direct legal services and broader advocacy as an IJC fellow.

Aseem Mehta

  • Yale University, Bachelor of Arts, Ethics, Politics & Economics
  • Spanish- and Hindi-speaker

While directing a documentary film on immigration detention for Human Rights First, Aseem was stunned by the deplorable conditions in detention facilities and limited access to counsel. Seeing these conditions firsthand motivated him to become an advocate—by joining the IJC. Aseem developed his commitment to equal justice as a Humanity in Action Fellow in Paris and as an Arthur Liman Summer Fellow in New York. He graduated magna cum laude from Yale where his thesis, an analysis of the expression of political voice by undocumented communities, was awarded the Hume Prize for its joint empirical and theoretical approach.

Leslie Montes

  • Harvard University, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology
  • Spanish-speaker

Leslie’s commitment to social justice can be traced to her upbringing as a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles. Having to personally navigate the barriers faced by immigrant families solidified her dedication to advocating for marginalized communities. In college, Leslie took on leadership roles in Harvard’s Latino community through Concilio Latino, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA, and Act on a DREAM, and also with the Phillips Brooks House Association, a student-run, community-based, nonprofit public service organization at Harvard University. Her experiences advocating on behalf of undocumented students and working with families in Boston’s South End have prepared her to help provide access to justice as an IJC Fellow.

Hong Tran

  • Yale University, Bachelor of Arts, Religious Studies
  • Vietnamese-, Mandarin-, Tibetan-, and Bahasa Indonesia-speaker

Hong, a native from Vietnam, came to the United States to attend college. Her own newcomer experience and subsequent interactions with immigrants around the world have inspired her to serve as an IJC fellow. Through volunteering with the Yale Refugee Project and doing thesis research in the Himalayas, Hong has worked with many international émigrés, including Afghan refugees in Iran and Tibetan exiles in Nepal. She recently interned at Boston College School of Law’s Federal Appeals Clinic assisting immigrants in removal proceedings. Hong graduated magna cum laude from Yale, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society and was awarded the Nani Deb Memorial Prize, presented to the best graduate or senior undergraduate essay on Asian religions.

Melissa Garcia Velez

  • City University of New York, Lehman College, Bachelor of Arts, Social Work
  • Spanish-speaker

A Colombian native, Melissa arrived in Queens at age eight to reunite with her mother who had previously migrated to New York. During her sophomore year of high school, Melissa learned of her status as an undocumented immigrant. Nevertheless, she was accepted to Lehman College, and obtained five different scholarships to cover her tuition. During college, Melissa worked with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an undocumented youth leadership organization, through which she advocated and organized for “DREAMer” legislation and campaigns. She also co-founded the Lehman Dream Team, a school club that provides a safe space for undocumented students on campus. Melissa was named Undergraduate Social Work Student of the Year by the New York State Social Work Education Association and a Newman National Civic Fellow for her passion and dedication to community service and social justice.