Dedicated experts with a proven record of success.

 
 

Executive Director

 

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, the 2013 American Constitution Society Ruth Goldman Award and the 2017 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award.

 
 

Program

 

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, 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.

Mari Dorn-Lopez, Deputy Program Director (DC) read more

Mari Dorn-Lopez is a Deputy Program Director for the Young Center’s New York and D.C. offices. Mari has extensive experience working with and advocating on behalf of detained unaccompanied immigrant children. Before coming to the Young Center, she worked as Supervising Attorney with the Detained Children’s Program at a D.C. nonprofit, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. At CAIR Coalition, Mari represented detained immigrant children in their removal proceedings and to sought relief for victims of crimes, such as child abuse and domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of persecution. Prior to that, Mari worked for a law firm in northern Virginia, where she practiced 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.

Xiaorong Jajah Wu, Deputy Program Director (Chicago) read more

Xiaorong Jajah Wu is a Deputy Program Director with the Young Center. Based in Chicago, Ms. Wu oversees the Chicago and Houston offices. 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.

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.

Geoff Wood, National Volunteer Program Coordinator (New York) read more

Geoff Wood is the National Volunteer Program Coordinator with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Based in New York, Geoff coordinates the national Child Advocate volunteer program. Geoff was the Volunteer Coordinator for the New York office and also managed the volunteer program in Chicago. 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.

Marcy Phillips, Senior Attorney for Written Advocacy (Chicago) 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.

 
 
 

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.

Amy Jo Albinak, Development Director (Chicago) read more

AJ Albinak is a multi-genre author of more than a dozen novels and co-publisher of a series of social justice-focused anthologies featuring short stories by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. She has been active in fundraising for Chicago elementary schools, work-to-play sports programs for children, and LGBTQ youth shelters for twenty years. Her background includes a decade in HR management and extensive experience in social media platform building.

Regina Favela, Operations Associate (Chicago) read more

Regina Favela is the Operations Associate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she manages and improves various operational components of the organization. Previously, Regina interned with Catholic Charities of Miami where she assisted unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. She received a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Anthropology and Romance Languages and Literature from the University of Chicago. During her time at the University, Regina interned with the Office of College Admissions and the Office of the Deputy Provost for Research & Minority Issues. In addition, Regina worked at a student-run coffee shop and served as editor-in-chief of a bilingual publication.

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.

Moiz Bharmal, Executive Assistant (Chicago) read more

Moiz Bharmal is the Executive Assistant based at the Young Center's Chicago office. He received a BA degree from Vassar College in 2016 where he double-majored in Chinese and Political Science. While at Vassar, Moiz studied and interned abroad in Qingdao and Shanghai, China. After he graduated, Moiz returned to China for one year as an academic consultant for a company which guides Chinese high school students through the U.S. college application process. After his time in China, Moiz returned to the United States and received an MA degree in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago in 2018. Moiz's research at UChicago focused on Chinese foreign policy and international alliances.


Chicago

Kelly Albinak Kribs, Managing Attorney read more

Kelly Albinak Kribs is the Managing 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.

Raia Stoicheva, Staff Attorney read more

Raia Stoicheva is a Staff Attorney with the Young Center based in Chicago. Before joining the Young Center, she was a staff attorney and clinical instructor at the DePaul College of Law Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. There she helped community-based organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants and taught a clinical course on immigration law. She graduated with honors from the Northwestern University Pritzker College of Law where she participated in the asylum law and the international human rights law clinics. Raia has served as a Child Advocate with the Young Center. She is originally from Bulgaria.

Kennedy Green, Volunteer Coordinator read more

Kennedy Green is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center's bustling Chicago Office. She is a June 2018 University of Chicago AB graduate, with a major in Law, Letters, and Society, and a minor in Human Rights. Additionally in June, Kennedy received her Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago Division of Social Sciences. While at UChicago, much of Kennedy’s study and research focused on US immigration law, the political theory of international coercion, and the legal history of race relations in the United States and Latin America. Directly prior to this exciting post with the Young Center, Kennedy served as a Legal and Case Support Intern in the Chicago Office for a year and a half. Before that, Kennedy celebrated life and service in summer 2017 at Justice Centre Hong Kong (in Hong Kong, SAR PRoC); in summer 2016 for the US Department of State at the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and continuously from 2015-2017 with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

Yesenia Jimenez, Case Support Specialist read more

Yesenia Jimenez is the Case Support Specialist for the Young Center’s Chicago office. She graduated from Harvard College in 2017 where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Government, a secondary in French, and a language citation in Portuguese. During her time at Harvard, Yesenia worked to improve the resources for first generation students as a Peer Advising Fellow for first year students and Pedagogy Fellow at the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Her undergraduate academic career culminated in honors senior thesis researched the perceptions of political cooperation and socioeconomic advantages between the black and Latinx communities in Detroit. Yesenia previously worked on issues of criminal justice and immigrant rights at the Public Defender’s Service in DC and at Castellana Immigration Law, LLC in Michigan. After graduation, she spent a year in Paris on an academic fellowship researching the intersections of criminal and migration policy.


Harlingen

Olivia Peña, Managing Attorney read more

Olivia Peña is a Staff Attorney with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Harlingen, Texas. Before joining the Young Center in 2014, Olivia served as a Student Attorney in the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, where she worked on humanitarian parole, asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile status, Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals, and Adjustment of Status applications. She successfully represented clients before U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Executive Office of Immigration Review. While in law school, Olivia also clerked for the Hon. Felix Recio of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas; Martinez, Barrera, Martinez L.L.P.; and the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office. Olivia earned her Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas in Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.

Rosemary Gonzalez, Staff Attorney read more

Rosemary Gonzalez is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. Before joining the Young Center, Rosemary represented unaccompanied children in South Texas on various forms of immigration relief. Rosemary graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law. While in law school, Rosemary worked as a Texas Access to Justice Associate at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. She also interned at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in San Antonio where she drafted asylum opinions which were taken under advisement by the immigration judges. Rosemary earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Spanish from St. Edward’s University.

Juan Gonzalez, Staff Attorney read more

Juan Gonzalez is a staff attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen, Texas office. Juan is a graduate of Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. Prior to working at the Young Center, Juan represented unaccompanied immigrant children in removal proceedings at the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project.

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.

Daniel Szabo, Case Support Specialist read more

Daniel Szabo is a Case Support Specialist at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights Harlingen Office. In his role as Case Support Specialist, he acquires and communicates background information and developments pertaining to Young Center cases. Daniel began working at the Young Center’s Harlingen Office in September 2018 following his completion of a B.A. from Cornell University. His motivation for joining the Young Center stems from his experiences in supporting people experiencing homelessness, as well as his international background.


Houston

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.

Catherine Mongeon, Staff Attorney Read More

Catherine Mongeon is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Houston, Texas. Before joining the Young Center, Ms. Mongeon worked at the US Agency for International Development in the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean where she led the bureau’s work on gender equality, social inclusion, and human rights. Prior to joining USAID, Ms. Mongeon advocated for public health policies in California and received a post-graduate fellowship to provide legal support to a community-based environmental organization in Papua New Guinea. Ms. Mongeon received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law where she participated in legal clinics focused on asylum representation, legal aid services, and human rights advocacy. Before attending law school, Ms. Mongeon was a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Paraguay where she worked with teachers and youth on environmental projects.

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, Staff Child Advocate Read More

Jessie Beecher-Bell is the Staff Child Advocate 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.


Washington DC

Ursela Ojeda, Policy Associate Read More

Ursela Ojeda is a Policy Associate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Previously, Ursela spent several years working with the detained immigrant population in the Washington, D.C. area. First, as a Staff Attorney with the Capital Area Immigrant’s Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Ursela provided pro bono legal services to detained unaccompanied children in all levels of immigration detention. As a Staff Attorney with the Young Center, Ursela engaged in creative advocacy to promote the best interests of immigrant children based on domestic and international child welfare and human rights law. Ursela received a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. While at Michigan, Ursela worked with victims of sex and labor trafficking with the Michigan Law Human Trafficking Clinic. Ursela is admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Miriam Abaya, Policy Associate Read More

Miriam Abaya is a Policy Associate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Young Center, Miriam was a Law & Public Policy Fellow with the Temple University’s Law & Public Policy Program, where she conducted research on international justice outreach on the African continent. Miriam also worked part-time for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, where she supported a project on victim participation in the Central African Republic’s Special Criminal Court. Miriam received a J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in Music from Haverford College. She is admitted to practice law in New York.

Maria Barbosa, Staff Attorney Read More

Maria J. Barbosa is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s Washington, D.C. office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Maria received a Michigan Law Bates Overseas Fellowship to represent refugees in resettlement at the Refugee Legal Aid Program (RLAP) at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services in Cairo, Egypt. She then continued at RLAP as a Senior Legal Officer where she supervised legal staff and volunteers representing refugees in refugee status determination and protection matters. Maria is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University, where she received a B.S. in Social Policy. While at Michigan, she worked with victims of sex and labor trafficking with the Michigan Law Human Trafficking Clinic. Maria is admitted to practice law in Illinois.

Upasana Khatri, Staff Attorney Read More

Upasana is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s D.C. office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Upasana served on the legal team of EarthRights International (ERI), first at the D.C. office and then with the Amazon Legal Program office, based in Lima, Peru. At ERI, Upasana supported indigenous and rural communities in defending their rights and seeking justice for corporate and state-sponsored human rights abuses and environmental harm through litigation and legal advocacy. Upasana received her J.D. from the American University Washington College of Law and a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Davidson College.


New York

Priscilla Monico Marín, Staff Attorney, Child and Family Rights Project Read More

Priscilla Monico Marín is a staff attorney for the Child and Family Rights Project in the New York office. 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, Managing 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.

Anupama Selvam, Staff Attorney Read More

Anupama Selvam is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center based in New York City. Ms. Selvam has over a decade of experience working in prevention of gender-based violence, including experience as a medical/legal advocate for sexual assault and abuse survivors at Chicago’s Rape Victim Advocates and providing legal research support for Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre while she lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. She combined her expertise in prevention of gender-based violence with her knowledge of immigration law and policy while working at the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP), where she conducted comparative research on best interests of a child standards as developed in U.S. state laws and provided technical assistance to attorneys on accessible forms of relief for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. In addition, Ms. Selvam’s career is deeply rooted international law, with experience working on cases fighting for restitution for Holocaust survivors and attending courses at the T.M.C. Asser Institute in The Hague, Netherlands. Most recently Ms. Selvam served on the litigation team for a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit where she represented an immigrant survivor of gender-based violence. She holds a JD from American University Washington College of Law, an MA from the American University School of International Service, and BSc in Foreign Service from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Rebecca Rittenhouse, Staff Attorney Read More

Rebecca Rittenhouse is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center based in New York City. Previously Rebecca worked at ECPAT International in Bangkok, Thailand as a Legal Research Officer, working on issues related to child sexual exploitation and child trafficking. Rebecca has worked as a legal intern at the Human Rights Foundation in New York City, as well as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague. She was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua. Rebecca holds a LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Essex in England, a JD from New England Law/Boston and a BA in International Studies from Allegheny College. She is admitted to practice law in New York.

Janna Royer, Staff Attorney, Child and Family Rights Project read more

Janna Akim Royer is a Staff Attorney for the Immigrant Child and Family Rights Project in the New York Office. Janna is a recent transplant from Washington D.C. She holds a J.D. and LL.M. in International Legal Studies with specializations in International Human Rights Law and Gender and International Law, from American University Washington College of Law. During her LL.M. program Janna did research work in the Anti-Trafficking area, as well as academically taking a interest in the trafficking of domestic workers by diplomatic personnel and other foreign officers. She has prior immigration litigation experience, representing asylum applicants in the Arlington Immigration Court. Janna’s areas of interest include immigration, gender-based violence, and anti-trafficking, international human rights.

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.


San Antonio

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.

Monica Romo, Social Worker read more

Monica Romo, LCSW, is the social worker at the Young Center San Antonio office. Previously, Monica was a clinician providing trauma-informed mental health services, including assessing for abuse, neglect, and human trafficking for unaccompanied minors in immigration detention. Monica also provided mental health services to children and adults in a nonprofit community clinic and county hospital. She is a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), where she earned her Bachelor and Masters degrees in social work. She was awarded the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health Bilingual Scholarships during her graduate studies. While at OLLU, Monica participated in various educational events regarding unaccompanied minors, served as Vice President of the social work student organization, and volunteered at Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services. Monica immigrated to the U.S. with her family from Mexico at the age of 10. Her own immigrant experience drives her passion for serving immigrant children and families.

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.


Phoenix

Vanessa Pineda, Managing Attorney read more

Vanessa Pineda is the Managing 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.

Rocio Castaneda, Staff Attorney, Child and Family Rights Project read more

Rocío Castañeda is a Staff Attorney based in Phoenix, Arizona. Before joining the Young Center, Rocío was a Managing Attorney with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), Children’s Program, where she represented detained and released unaccompanied children in removal proceedings in Phoenix. She left Phoenix to start a unique fellowship through FIRRP in collaboration with the Kino Border Initiative, a binational organization located on the U.S.-Mexico border. As a Legal Fellow, she spent a year providing legal services to asylum seekers at the border to promote humane migration. Rocío obtained her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law while working with private immigration law firm specializing in removal defense and appeals. Before law school, she was a DOJ accredited representative with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago and the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR). Rocío is licensed to practice law in Arizona. She is from Nogales, and she enjoys carnes asadas and reading fiction.

Estrellita Alvarado, Social Worker, Safe Repatriation Project 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.

Olivia Porter, Staff Attorney read more

Olivia Porter is a staff attorney at the Young Center’s Phoenix office. Before to coming to the Young Center, Olivia was an associate at a small, private law firm in central Phoenix where she practiced removal defense and family-based immigration law, as well as criminal law. Olivia is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and currently serves as the Phoenix Chapter’s Treasurer. Olivia graduated with her JD suma cum laude from Golden Gate University School of Law with specializations in family and business law. She also obtained a Master of Social Work from Brigham Young University with an emphasis in child sexual abuse.

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.

Lindsey De Pew, Case Support Specialist read more

Lindsey De Pew is the Case Support Specialist for the Phoenix office. Following her graduation from Kent State University in 2004, Lindsey went to live in Guatemala for a year as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (USA), where she learned about justice from an international perspective and engaged in conversations with local Mayan communities about their life experiences. Since then, Lindsey has spent the bulk of her career working in immigrant rights and justice work in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. While in Tucson, she worked for BorderLinks and was active with No More Deaths. In 2008, she joined The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Program as a legal assistant at the Children’s Project in Phoenix where she went on to become a BIA Accredited Representative. In 2014, she went to work for Catholic Charities as a case manager for the Long-Term Foster Care Program.


Los Angeles

Elizabeth Sanchez, Social Worker read more

Elizabeth Sanchez is a bicultural and bilingual social worker at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Los Angeles, California. Elizabeth is passionate about the intersection of immigration policy, early prevention/intervention, program development, and mental health service delivery. Elizabeth enjoys providing contextual and culturally attuned clinical and advocacy services to young children and families that predominantly come from immigrant contexts. Elizabeth’s professional and academic experiences stem from obtaining a BA in Sociology and Chicanx/Latinx Studies from UC Irvine and obtaining a Master’s degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Elizabeth has committed herself to providing and promoting cultural humility, critical reflexivity, and non-traditional ways of healing for Central American unaccompanied minors, mixed status families, and undocumented immigrant communities. Elizabeth’s passion and devotion to immigration justice efforts is one that encompasses supporting unaccompanied minors and extends to being on a board of directors of Programa Velasco, an organization devoted to helping empower and support Salvadorian children, families, and women reach wellbeing.

Jessica Zweng, Staff Child Advocate read more

Jessica recently returned from Lesvos island in Greece, where she worked with Reed Smith’s international human rights legal capacity building team representing refugees in first instance asylum hearings, Syrian nationals in admissibility appeals, and unaccompanied children in reunification claims under Dublin III. Previously, she practiced at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, providing direct representation and intensive pro se support to the thousands of adults detained in ICE custody in the state of Arizona. Prior to joining FIRRP, Jessica worked in the Great Lakes region of East Africa as an Associate Resettlement Expert under the auspices of UNHCR. In 2009, she was recognized by the California Rural Assistance Foundation as the Outstanding Young Advocate of the Year and, perhaps most notably, in 2001 she was recognized by Unitrans as the “Best Dressed Bus Driver” of the year. Jessica holds a J.D. from the UC Davis School of Law and a B.A. in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara.

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.