Dedicated experts with a proven record of success.
Maria Woltjen, Executive Director (Chicago) read more
Maria Woltjen is the Executive Director and founder of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School. The Young Center’s primary work is to advocate for the best interests—safety and well-being—of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. As part of this work, the Young Center serves as Child Advocate (best interests guardian ad litem) for trafficking victims and unaccompanied immigrant children pursuant to the Wilberforce Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Ms. Woltjen’s focus is on reforming the immigration system to incorporate a best interests standard and developing a dedicated immigration justice system for children. Throughout her career, Ms. Woltjen has focused on children’s rights, at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the ChildLaw Center at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, and now at the University of Chicago Law School. Ms. Woltjen is the recipient of the 1996 Public Interest Law Initiative Distinguished Alumni Award and the 2013 American Constitution Society Ruth Goldman Award.
Elizabeth Frankel, Associate Director (New York) read more
Elizabeth Frankel is the Associate Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Based in New York City, Ms. Frankel oversees the New York, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles offices. Ms. Frankel has worked for the Young Center since 2009, first in Chicago and now in New York. While in Chicago, Ms. Frankel taught immigration law and a clinical course at the University of Chicago Law School. Through the clinic, law students worked with the Young Center and served as Child Advocates for immigrant children in the Chicagoland area. Before joining the Young Center, Ms. Frankel practiced as a litigation associate, first at Morrison and Foerster’s New York office and then at Verrill Dana LLP, where she devoted substantial time to asylum and removal defense. Prior to law school, Ms. Frankel was a middle school ESL teacher with Teach for America. Ms. Frankel received her J.D. from NYU School of Law and her B.A. from Middlebury College.
Jennifer Nagda, Policy Director (Philadelphia) read more
Jennifer Nagda is the Policy Director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Jennifer has worked at the Young Center since 2008 as a staff attorney, associate director and policy director. She is also a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic. Jennifer was an attorney at the Midwest Regional Office of MALDEF, where she litigated immigration, education and employment discrimination cases. She clerked for the Honorable James B. Zagel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Prior to law school, Jennifer was the Associate Director of what is now the CityBridge Foundation in Washington DC. Jennifer received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and her undergraduate degree from Duke University. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.
Gladis Molina Alt, Deputy Program Director (Phoenix) read more
Gladis Molina Alt is a Deputy Program Director with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Based in Phoenix, Gladis oversees the Phoenix and Los Angeles offices. Gladis comes to the Young Center with a decade of experience in working with Unaccompanied Immigrant Children. She has worked in Harlingen, TX for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR); in Los Angeles, CA for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND); and in Phoenix, AZ for The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. She has represented children in Immigration Court and Juvenile Court, as well as before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Gladis is a native of El Salvador and grew up in Long Beach, CA. She received her B.A. from the California State University in Long Beach (CSULB) and her J.D. from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). Before attending law school, Gladis worked at the U.S. House of Representatives as a Policy Fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).
Danielle Salgado, Deputy Program Director (Harlingen) read more
Danielle Salgado is a Deputy Program Director with the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. Based in Harlingen, she is a recent transplant from New York City to the Rio Grande Valley. After graduating from Fordham University School of Law in 2004, Danielle began her legal career working with farm workers in Upstate New York before moving back to the New York City area to work with immigrant victims of domestic violence. She then provided comprehensive immigration services to the primarily Latino population in Westchester County. Next Danielle worked as the supervising attorney for the immigration and domestic violence units at Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC), a community based organization in the upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. Most recently, Danielle was the Managing Attorney for the Civil Legal Services Department at STEPS to End Family Violence (STEPS), a program of Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families, a community based organization in East Harlem.
Marisa Chumil, National Social Work Director (Chicago) read more
Marisa Chumil, LCSW, is the National Social Work Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Based in Chicago, Ms. Chumil oversees cases in Chicago and consults on cases nationally for all Young Center offices. Ms. Chumil also oversees the Young Center’s work on international home studies. Prior to joining the Young Center in 2013, Ms. Chumil worked for nine years in early childhood programs at El Valor, a Chicago non-profit organization, where she focused on social services, social and emotional development, and mental health services for immigrant children and their families. She received her Masters in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago and specialized in Migration Studies and Children and Families. Ms. Chumil served as a Child Advocate and graduate social work intern at the Young Center from 2009 to 2010. She began her work in human rights as a volunteer in Guatemala and El Salvador in communities rebuilding after civil war.
Operations & Development
Sarah Waxman, Managing Director (Chicago) read more
Sarah Waxman is the Managing Director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Sarah has worked with immigration legal services providers since 1999. Previously, she was the Legal Services Director at Latinos Progresando, of which she is currently the Board President. Past experience also includes the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Law Offices of Moises Hernandez, Esq. After law school, Sarah worked for the Chicago firm of Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum and Nagelberg, where she practiced commercial litigation with a focus on banking. During her time there, she provided pro bono legal immigration services for asylum seekers and people applying for immigration benefits under the Violence Against Women Act. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Law School.
Jairo Villalobos, Legal and Operations Manager (Chicago) read more
Jairo Villalobos is the Legal and Operations Manager for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. After graduating from Richard J. Daley College in 2010, he transferred to Yale University to complete his undergraduate studies. At Yale, Mr. Villalobos worked for the Human Research Protection Program where he researched, identified, and analyzed federal and university regulations regarding human research studies to detect and correct protocol deviation(s) to ensure the highest ethical standards. Mr. Villalobos earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2013 and joined the Young Center soon after. At the Young Center, Mr. Villalobos manages and improves various operational components of the organization from the case management database and computer software utilization to accounts and processes for criminal and child abuse background checks for child advocate volunteers. Moreover, Mr. Villalobos works to ensure that the organization is in compliance with several regulations in all states the Young Center currently operates.
Paulette Jones, Accountant (Chicago) read more
Paulette Jones is the Accountant for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Previously, she worked at various Chicago area non-profit organizations as Manager of Accounting. Paulette comes to us with over 15 years of experience working in the non-profit arena and holds a Masters in Non-Profit Business Administration (MNPA) from North Park University. She is currently in the process of obtaining her CPA license and is owner of her own Bookkeeping and Income Tax Business.
Madeline Witters, Development Associate (Chicago) read more
Madeline Witters is the Development Associate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she provides support for the development and executive teams. Madeline became involved with the Young Center in 2013, first serving as a volunteer, and then joining the Chicago team as a Legal and Case Support Intern. In addition to her time at the Young Center, Madeline also interned at the Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Youth Justice where she researched risk assessments for juveniles, later writing her undergraduate thesis on this topic. She received a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Public Policy and Law, Letters, & Society from the University of Chicago in 2016.
Jeff Wang, Communications Associate (Chicago) read more
Jeff Wang is the Communications Associate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, where his responsibilities include media relations, social media, and email newsletters. Jeff up in Avon, Connecticut, and is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago. There, he majored in English and math, helped lead a concert programming board, and worked at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Between graduating college and joining the Young Center, Jeff held internships at the public affairs firms Jasculca Terman Strategic Communications and Kivvit, where he worked on communications, campaign management, and media relations for a variety of nonprofit, government, and corporate clients.
Xiaorong Jajah Wu, Supervising Attorney read more
Xiaorong Jajah Wu is the Supervising Attorney for our Chicago office. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 2010, she worked as a PILI Fellow at the Young Center before joining Schiff Hardin, LLP, where she practiced in the areas of environmental and general litigation, and devoted substantial time to pro bono cases related to child custody and immigration. At the University of Chicago Law School, Ms. Wu was a Child Advocate and research intern for the Young Center. She also participated in running the Law and Gender and the Law and Economics conferences.
Marcy Phillips, Senior Attorney for Written Advocacy read more
Marcy Phillips is the Senior Attorney for Written Advocacy at our Chicago office. Before joining the Young Center, Marcy worked as an Assistant Public Defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, and as a clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Consumer Law Litigation Clinic. After graduating from Stanford Law School, where she was a Public Service Fellow, Marcy clerked for a federal district judge in the 9th Circuit. Marcy has served as an Advocate for children from Somalia and Bangladesh.
Kelly Albinak Kribs, Immigrant Child Rights Fellow read more
Kelly Albinak Kribs is the Immigrant Child Rights Fellow and Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Chicago office. Ms. Kribs graduated with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as Child Advocate and Public Interest Law Initiative Fellow with the Young Center. Thereafter, Ms. Kribs clerked for the Honorable Rebecca R. Pallmeyer of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, before joining Sidley Austin LLP as an associate. While at Sidley Austin, Kelly practiced in commercial litigation and conducted internal investigations. She also maintained a healthy pro bono practice, including the successful representation of two Syrian asylum seekers. Before attending law school, Ms. Kribs worked at a Washington, D.C. think tank on Latin American issues and taught English in Nicaragua.
Geoff Wood, National Volunteer Program Coordinator read more
Geoff Wood is the National Volunteer Program Coordinator with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Based in Chicago, Geoff coordinates the national Child Advocate volunteer program and manages the Chicago office’s volunteer program. Prior to moving to Chicago, Geoff was the Volunteer Coordinator for the New York office. Geoff first began working with immigrants through a volunteer program that matched undergraduate students with recently arrived refugee families in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After graduating, Geoff worked as an employment specialist for Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains Refugee and Asylee Programs where he prepared refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking to enter the workforce. Following his work with Lutheran Family Services, he taught English in Argentina and later volunteered with the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans in Queens, New York. Geoff holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colorado College where he majored in International Political Economy.
Ashley Mariscal, Staff Attorney read more
Ashley Denise Mariscal is a Staff Attorney in our Harlingen, Texas office. She is a native of Harlingen and obtained her Juris Doctor from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. During law school, Ashley was a Student Attorney and Research Assistant in the Legal and Social Justice Center Immigration & Criminal Clinic. Then, she continued working with immigrants as a Legal Fellow for the Children’s Program at RAICES in San Antonio. Prior to entering law school, Ashley worked to prevent child abuse as an Investigator with Texas Child Protective Services.
Olivia Peña, Staff Attorney read more
Susana Garza, Volunteer Coordinator read more
Susana Garza is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Harlingen office. Prior to the Young Center, Susana was an advocate for foster children with a local non-profit organization. Susana also dedicated her time to helping others by collecting clothing donations and delivering them to needy families in Mexico. Susana currently holds an Associate’s degree in Social Work from South Texas College and is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Pamela Nickell, Staff Attorney Read More
Pamela Nickell is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s Houston office. Pam graduated from the University of Texas School of Law where she participated as a Student Attorney in the Immigration Clinic during her last semester. Pam assisted clients seeking asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status relief. During the summer of 2015, Pam interned with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) in their Houston office. In law school, she also volunteered in the Rio Grande Valley through the University of Texas School of Law’s Pro Bono in January Trip. During the service trip, she helped clients apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and she worked with clients in preparing wills in the Wills on Wheels clinic. Before graduate school, she volunteered with the International Rescue Committee in their legal services department. Pam graduated summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University with her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and International Studies.
Rachel Wootten, Volunteer Coordinator Read More
Rachel Wootten is the Volunteer Coordinator for our Houston office. Rachel has worked with vulnerable youth, both domestically and internationally, since graduating from the University of Delaware in 2012 with her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Shortly after graduating, she spent a year in Cameroon working for United Action for Children. While in Cameroon, her primary focus was working alongside her Cameroonian colleagues to ensure girls in remote villages had access to an education. Upon her return to the U.S., she worked for a multicultural community center providing after-school tutoring and support to immigrant youth. She has recently begun her graduate studies at the University of Houston, pursuing a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work.
Jessica Beecher-Bell, Program Assistant Read More
Jessie Beecher-Bell is the Program Assistant in the Houston office. She is a long-time social service provider and administrator in low-income housing around the U.S., with experience in journalism and translation work as well. Jessie was previously a volunteer Child Advocate with the Young Center for more than 2 years. She lived and traveled in Latin America for 5 years.
Ursela Ojeda, Staff Attorney Read More
Ursela Ojeda is a Staff Attorney for our Washington, DC office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Ursela worked with detained immigrant children as a Staff Attorney with the Detained Children’s Program of the Capital Areas Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition and as a legal fellow at Ayuda in Falls Church, Virginia. Ursela received a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. While at Michigan, Ursela worked with victims of sex trafficking with the Michigan Law Human Trafficking Clinic. Ursela is a member of the Virginia bar.
Mari Dorn-Lopez, Staff Attorney Read More
Mari Dorn-Lopez is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Washington D.C. office. Her past experience includes working as a Supervising Attorney with the Detained Children’s Program at a D.C. nonprofit, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, defending immigrant children seeking U and T visas, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Asylum. Prior to that, Mari worked for a firm in northern Virginia practicing general litigation with a focus on family law. Mari completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia and earned her law degree from the Washington College of Law at American University. Mari is admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Taryn Kitchen, Volunteer Coordinator Read More
Taryn Kitchen coordinates the volunteer Child Advocate program in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. Prior to joining the Young Center in September of 2017, Taryn lived in southern Mexico for a year as a Fulbright grantee. In addition to teaching English at a Mexican University, she also volunteered at a youth detention center for immigrant children near the border of Guatemala. Taryn grew up as a theatre nerd in southeastern Massachusetts and is a Connecticut College camel, with her bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and Elementary Education, and a minor in Community Action and Public.
Priscilla Monico Marin, Staff Attorney Read More
Priscilla Monico Marín is a staff attorney at the New York office of Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Previously, Ms. Marín worked at Advocates for Children of New York as a staff attorney on the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. In that role, Ms. Marín provided legal representation to immigrant families seeking high-quality, appropriate educational services. Ms. Marín is a graduate of Rutgers Law School and served as judicial family law clerk to the Honorable Michael Paul Wright, J.S.C. Ms. Marín obtained her undergraduate degree from The George Washington University with a B.A. in Political Communication and a Master’s Degree in Teaching, with a concentration in bilingual education, from Pace University, Graduate School of Education. Ms. Marín taught for five years as a bilingual elementary school teacher in New York City and Hoboken, NJ prior to practicing law and is an alumna of Teach for America.
Shaina Simenas, Social Worker Read More
Shaina has joined our team as the New York Social Worker after recently completing her masters in public health and social work at New York University. She has spent the last two years working with middle and high school students in the Bronx facilitating individual and group counseling for those at risk of dropping out. Prior to graduate school, Shaina worked in development and fundraising for a school in Los Angeles. She created scholarships for marginalized students that enabled them to continue their education.
Marina Rioux, Volunteer Coordinator Read More
Marina Rioux is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s New York office. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a dual degree in International Studies and Romance Languages and Literatures. While at the University of Chicago, she worked as a tutor through the Neighborhood Schools Program and served as the president of the Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights. She has previously worked in refugee resettlement on case management, family reunification, employment services, and ESL programming. She has also spent time studying and working in Tanzania, Mexico, Morocco, and Chile.
Bessie Muñoz, Staff Attorney read more
Bessie Munoz is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s San Antonio office. Bessie graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law where she participated as a Student Attorney in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. She assisted clients seeking asylum, legal permanent residency and U Visa. During the summer of 2015, Bessie interned with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She also interned at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and at Texas RioGrand Legal Aid. Bessie was a staff writer for The Scholar Law Review on Race and Social Justice. During her third year in law school, she served on the The Scholar’s board as Symposium Editor and was a Research Assistant at the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. Bessie graduated from St. Mary’s University with her Master’s in Business Administrations and her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and International Business.
Patty Hurtado, Staff Attorney read more
Patty Hurtado is a native of San Antonio, TX. She graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law where she was a student attorney in the Criminal Defense Clinic. Subsequent to graduating with her J.D., Patty ventured out to New York City, where she resided for 14 years. During her time in NYC, Patty was a trial attorney, primarily in the fields of family and criminal law. Patty was also the Court Attorney to the Hon. Sarah Krauss in Kings County (Brooklyn) Family Court and, as such, has now represented all sides of a family court matter – parents, children, and a judge. But, for the majority of her time in NYC, Patty was an Attorney for Children, representing children in Family Court matters. Patty is very excited at having the opportunity to continue working with children, as part of the Young Center, now that she has returned to her hometown.
Nicole Cooper, Volunteer Coordinator read more
Nicole Cooper is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s San Antonio office. She graduated from the University of North Texas with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in International Politics and Diplomacy, and English Literature, and has since found her passion in working with refugee and migrant populations. Following graduation, Nicole interned with the International Rescue Committee, serving in their Job Readiness/ESL Program and spent time abroad as a TaLK Scholar, teaching English in rural South Korea. Upon her return, Nicole worked in the Dallas area office of Refugee Services of Texas serving in multiple roles including Youth Mentor Coordinator, Housing Coordinator, and Volunteer Coordinator. She most recently finished up work with a private Dallas law firm, assisting with federal employment cases and hopes to attend law school in the near future.
Vanessa Pineda, Staff Attorney read more
Vanessa Pineda is a staff attorney in the Phoenix office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Vanessa was the Pro-Bono Coordinator and Senior Staff Attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Phoenix, Arizona. At FIRRP, Vanessa represented detained and released children before the Phoenix Immigration Court and Maricopa County Juvenile Court. In addition, she mentored pro-bono attorneys handling children’s cases. Following law school, Vanessa was an Associate at Tapia-Ruano & Gunn, P.C., in Chicago, Illinois, where she practiced removal defense and family-based immigration law. Vanessa obtained her Juris Doctor from the DePaul University College of Law, and her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Arizona.
Ana Camila Colón Villafañe, Staff Attorney read more
Ana Camila Colón-Villafañe is a Staff Attorney for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to joining the Young Center, she was a Senior Staff Attorney for the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project in Dilley, Texas. Ana Camila represented detained asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America before the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services and the Miami Immigration Court. After being admitted to the Puerto Rico bar, Ana Camila was a Judicial Clerk at the Court of Appeals of Puerto Rico. She obtained her J.D. from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Law in San Juan, Puerto Rico and her B.A. in Environmental Science from Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Estrellita Alvarado, Safe Repatriation Social Worker read more
Prior to joining the Young Center, Estrellita served as a Clinician providing mental health and trafficking assessments, ongoing individual and group counseling and crisis intervention to unaccompanied minors. As a recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium scholarship, she graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Family and Human Development and minor in Communication. Estrellita received her Masters of Science in Social Work with a minor in International Social Welfare from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. She has experience working with at-risk youth, undocumented domestic violence survivors, and immigrant populations in Phoenix, AZ and New York City. Estrellita is passionate and committed to social justice, working with immigrants and their families and serving those in need.
Priscilla Guadarrama, Volunteer Coordinator read more
Priscilla Guadarrama was born in Fallbrook, California. After moving to Phoenix, Arizona, she enrolled at Arizona State University. In 2015 she earned her B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice. While at Arizona State University she was involved in the Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program where she assisted in a study on perceptions of disorder based on racial cues in neighborhoods. During her senior year, she was an intern at a safe house that lends support and rehabilitative services to victims of domestic violence and/or human sex trafficking.
Riquelmi Gomez, Staff Attorney read more
Riquelmi Gomez is the Staff Attorney for our Los Angeles office. Riquelmi has been involved in social justice work since her teenage years exemplified by being a founding member or Sistas and Brothas United (SBU), a youth organization dedicated to promoting educational justice in the Bronx, New York and beyond. Since graduating from Cardozo Law School, Riquelmi has worked at Goddard Riverside Law Project representing low-income tenants on Manhattan’s west side. Her history of working with children and youth dates back to her undergraduate years when she completed an internship in Guayaquil, Ecuador in Sor Dominga Bocca, an orphanage for girls. Interning at Sor Dominga Bocca confirmed her interests in working to promote the rights of children and youth. Riquelmi is proud of her Dominican heritage and the great city that she lives in!
Kelly Rose Garza, Volunteer Coordinator read more
Kelly Rose Garza is the Volunteer Coordinator for our Los Angeles Office. Prior to joining the Young Center, she was the Volunteer Coordinator for Bridges to Community Inc., in Masaya, Nicaragua for one year. There she led service learning trips and community development projects, helping build houses and health clinics in rural communities. She has also spent time in Argentina and Costa Rica, with Amigos de Las Americas and CIEE program, studying and volunteering at local schools. Kelly Rose is thrilled to join the Young Center, and is a graduate of The University of Colorado holding a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Spanish Language.