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. 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.


Child Advocate Program


Elizabeth Frankel, Associate Director (New York) read more

Elizabeth Frankel is the Associate Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. 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.

Gladis Molina Alt, Program Director (Phoenix) read more

Gladis Molina Alt is the Child Advocate Program Director with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. 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 with the Young Center. 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.

Marisa Chumil, Deputy Director, Social Work (Chicago) read more

Marisa Chumil, LCSW, is the Deputy Director, Social Work 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 and is currently studying public and nonprofit management at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Marcy Phillips, Deputy Director, Written Advocacy (Chicago) read more

Marcy Phillips is the Deputy Director, Written Advocacy. 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, Bangladesh, and Russia.


Policy Program

Jennifer Nagda, Policy Director (Philadelphia) read more

Jennifer Nagda is the Policy Director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. For more than a decade, her work at the Young Center has focused on protecting the rights of immigrant children in government custody—in particular, their right to have their best interests considered in every decision. In 2015, Jennifer was appointed by then-DHS Secretary Johnson to the ICE Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers. From 2012-2015, she staffed the federal Interagency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, which published its Framework for Considering the Best Interests of Unaccompanied Children in 2016. Jennifer is a lecturer in law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic and previously taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Before joining the Young Center, 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.

Mary Miller Flowers, Senior Policy Analyst for Child Protection (DC) Read More

Mary Miller Flowers is a Senior Policy Analyst for Child Protection for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Young Center, Mary was the associate director for justice at the Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative where she managed a global grant giving program on criminal justice reform, supporting civil society activists to uphold the rights of vulnerable criminal defendants. She was previously based in Liberia, West Africa with the Carter Center, working to improve access to justice. Mary received a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University and a master’s in divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Miriam Abaya, Policy Associate (DC) 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.

Noorjahan Akbar, Communications Manager (DC) Read More

Noorjahan Akbar is the Communications Manager for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Young Center, Noorjahan worked with Women for Women International. An advocate for gender equality, Noorjahan has designed and led campaigns in defense of human rights and against gender-based violence and her writings have been published by Al Jazeera and The New York Times, among other outlets. Noorjahan has a BA in Sociology from Dickinson College and a Master’s in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University.


Operations & Development


Sarah Waxman, Managing Director (Chicago) read more

Sarah Waxman is the Managing Director for the Young Center. 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.

Surika Pillay, HR Manager (Chicago) read more

Surika comes to us from NYC where she held Corporate HR roles in recruiting with L’Oreal USA and Victoria’s Secret. She then took a generalist HR role with ANN INC., where she focused on employee engagement, talent assessment and planning, and retention. She took a 3 month consulting role in Portland at Knowledge Universe (early childhood development), as HR support, building out HR processes for recruitment and onboarding. She then moved back to NYC to take HR Manager roles with WME|IMG, and the Brooklyn NETS in the entertainment space as an HR Director- mostly involved with performance management and recruiting. She has 8 years of Generalist HR experience across consumer products, retail, education, and entertainment. Most recently, she offered HR support to a Chicago-based non-profit that brings STEM education to underserved youth.

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.


Kelly Albinak Kribs, Managing Attorney read more

Kelly Albinak Kribs is the Managing Attorney at the Young Center’s Chicago office and co-teaches the Young Center Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. 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.

Althea Klein, Social Worker read more

Althea Klein, LCSW, is the social worker in the Young Center Chicago Office. Althea’s professional background has focused primarily on unaccompanied immigrant children, children involved in the child welfare system and child and adult survivors of trauma. Previously, she was a bilingual therapist in the child and adolescent outpatient clinic at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago. She has also provided case management and housing advocacy to families experiencing homelessness at La Casa Norte, she completed a graduate internship in the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Office of the Public Guardian, and she worked as a paralegal in the Immigrant Child Protection Project and the Immigrant Legal Defense Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. Althea has also served as a volunteer child advocate with the Young Center. She received her Masters in Social Work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Kennedy Green, Volunteer Coordinator read more

Kennedy Green is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center's Chicago Office. She graduated in June 2018 from the University of Chicago, with a BA in Law, Letters, and Society. Additionally, in June, Kennedy received her Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago Division of Social Sciences. While at the University of Chicago, Kennedy’s undergraduate and graduate research covered US immigration law, the political theory of international coercion, and the legal history of race relations in the United States and Latin America. Before starting as Volunteer Coordinator, Kennedy served as the Chicago office’s Legal and Case Support Intern for a year and a half. Kennedy’s other professional background includes legal research at Justice Centre Hong Kong, event management and legal research for the US Department of State at the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic; and in programming at 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.


Olivia Peña, Managing Attorney read more

Olivia Peña is the Managing Attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. 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.

Carrie Vander Hoek, Staff Child Advocate, MSW read more

Carrie Vander Hoek fills the Social Work position in the Harlingen, TX office. Carrie began her work with the unaccompanied child population as an undergrad intern at Bethany Christian Services Unaccompanied Refugee Minor and Long Term Foster Care Programs in Grand Rapids, MI. After graduation, Carrie then moved to the Rio Grande Valley and began working as an Americorps volunteer with the Mennonite Voluntary Services at South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR). Carrie then went on to work in the domestic foster care system as a social service worker and supervisor for The Bair Foundation in Harlingen. Most recently, she worked with General Dynamics IT as a Case Coordinator for 5 years and as a Supervisory Case Coordinator for almost 2.5 years. Carrie earned her Bachelors degree in Social Work from Calvin College and earned her Masters in Social Work from The University of New England.

Maritsa Leyva Martinez, Volunteer Coordinator read more

Maritsa Leyva Martinez was born in Guerrero, Mexico and was raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveler and amateur chef, she has enjoyed delicious cuisine in Singapore, France, Spain, Vietnam, Mexico, Hong Kong, Italy and other smaller and bigger nooks in the world. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University.


Pamela Nickell, Managing Attorney Read More

Pamela Nickell is the Managing Attorney at the Young Center’s Houston office. Pam joined the Young Center in 2016 as a Staff Attorney. Since then, she has served directly as Child Advocate and supervised volunteer Child Advocates on more than 70 cases. Pam has assisted child survivors of human trafficking, children with complex medical needs, youth who are pregnant or parenting, children who are at risk of aging out into adult detention, and other particularly vulnerable children. Because of her commitment to serving unaccompanied children, Pam was appointed to the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative’s Executive Committee, a strategic leadership body made up of representatives from service providers, advocacy organizations, educators, and funders that support immigrants in the greater Houston region. Pam also has volunteered as a mentor through the Texas Law Mentoring Program. Pam received her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University with her B.A. 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.

Valeria Olmedo, Social Worker Read More

Valeria Olmedo is a bilingual Licensed Master Social Worker for the Houston office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Valeria worked as a mental health clinician at a Houston shelter for unaccompanied minors ages 5-17. She provided mental health services including individual therapy and crisis intervention as well as focusing on assessing for trauma, abuse, neglect and trafficking. Valeria holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Houston-Downtown and continued her studies to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Houston with a concentration in Clinical work specializing with Latino populations. While completing her graduate degree, Valeria served as a volunteer child advocate with the Young Center. Her experience includes working with Latino adults and adolescents, substance use, parenting and case management for immigrant families. Valeria utilizes a trauma-informed lens in her work with Latino families and immigrant youth and is passionate and committed to her professional development working with the Latino immigrant population.

Rachel Wootten, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Rachel Wootten is the Volunteer Coordinator for our Houston office. She has worked in the Houston office since 2016. Since then, she has built up the Houston office volunteer corps from a handful of volunteers to a robust program. She has also served as Child Advocate to multiple children in the Houston area. 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 is currently working on her graduate degree at the University of Houston, pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Social Work with a specialization in Behavioral Health.

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

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.

Tami Benchoam Rogers, Social Worker Read More

Tami Benchoam Rogers, LMSW is a social worker for the Washington, DC office. Previously, Tami worked at a local non-profit in DC conducting home visits and parent groups with families who have young children. Tami obtained her Master’s degree from Tulane University School of Social Work with a certificate in Global Social Work. During her degree training, Tami interned in Pretoria, South Africa working on a research project to highlight the difficulties experienced by refugees and asylum seekers; and in the United States she worked as a case manager for victims of trafficking. Tami’s passion for social justice and working with the immigrant population comes from her mother, who came to the United States as a refugee.

Isabel George, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Isabel George is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s D.C. office. She graduated in 2018 from the College of William & Mary with a Bachelor’s degree in Government. While at William & Mary she completed a research project on the effect of cholera in various refugee camps and what role Air Combat Command might play in refugee health during an outbreak. During her secondary and undergraduate education, Isabel completed cultural exchanges in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Italy, India, and Spain, where she worked as an intern for Fundación por la Justicia on human rights issues. She has volunteered and worked with volunteers throughout her life.

New York

Priscilla Monico Marín, Managing Attorney Read More

Priscilla Monico Marín is the Managing Attorney 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 Simenas is the Managing Social for the New York office. Shaina oversees cases in the New York office as well as the New York Social Work program. She consults on cases nationally across Young Center offices and is a lead collaborator on the Young Center’s work on international home studies. She holds master’s degrees in Public Health and Social Work from New York University. While at New York University she worked with middle and high school students in the Bronx, facilitating individual and group counseling for those at risk of dropping out. Prior to joining the Young Center as a staff member, Shaina served as a volunteer Child Advocate. She received her undergraduate degree from American University in Health Promotion with a minor in Spanish.

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 Unity Project read more

Janna Akim Royer is a Staff Attorney for the Child and Family Unity 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.

Hannah Biskind, Social Worker, Child and Family Unity Project Read More

Hannah Biskind is a social worker for the Child and Family Unity project in New York. Hannah’s professional work has focused on the intersection of gender-based violence on immigrant and displaced communities, and psychosocial wellbeing. Prior to joining the Young Center, she worked as a legal advocate for families seeking emergency shelter in New York City and as a bilingual counselor for adults, adolescents, and children affected by family and intimate partner violence. Most recently, she provided holistic social work and direct service support for survivors of trafficking in Mexico City. Hannah completed her MSW at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College with a specialization in Global Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees. During her social work training, Hannah worked in both a pediatric emergency room on the psychiatric consult team and in the hospital's outpatient clinic for children and adolescents. She also served as a volunteer child advocate at the Young Center. Hannah's practice is informed by her passion for social justice, dedication to incorporating a trauma-informed lens, and a firm belief that a more just world is possible.

Kenisha Marks, Staff Attorney, Child and Family Unity Project Read More

Kenisha Marks is a Staff Attorney for the Child and Family Unity Project in the New York Office. Kenisha recently moved from Philadelphia where she was an Assistant Defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, representing indigent adults and juveniles involved in the criminal justice system. In that capacity, she specialized in allegations of police misconduct and with clients with mental health and substance abuse issues. Prior to law school she worked at CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, providing psychosocial support and as it relates to the Orphan Civil Party in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Kenisha has a J.D. from Temple University Law School, and is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania. She has two beautiful cats, and loves discovering new restaurants.

Roxanne Bedoya, Case Support Specialist Read More

Roxanne Bedoya is the Case Support Specialist for the Young Center’s New York office. She graduated from Rutgers University with her Bachelor of Arts. She has spent much time volunteering with children in her community and has spent a significant amount of time working with victims of substance abuse and addiction.

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, and is currently pursuing her Juris Doctor degree at St. Mary's University School of Law.


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.

Estrellita Alvarado, Social Worker, Safe Repatriation Project read more

Estrellita is a Social Worker for the Safe Repatriation Project in the Arizona office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Estrellita served as a Clinician providing trauma-informed mental health services for unaccompanied immigrant children. As a clinician, she assessed for abuse and human trafficking, facilitated individual and group counseling, and provided crisis intervention. Estrellita graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Bachelor of Science in Family and Human Development and a minor in Communication. She 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 survivors of domestic violence, and immigrant populations in Phoenix, AZ and New York City. Estrellita is passionate and committed to social justice, working with immigrants and their families.

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.

Jena Gutierrez, Staff Attorney read more

Jena Gutierrez is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Phoenix office. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 2012, her legal work focused primarily on representing unaccompanied children seeking protection through various forms of immigration relief and coordinating pro bono programs. She has worked at the Florence Project, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Ascentria’s Immigration Legal Assistance Program, and Community Legal Aid (Worcester, MA).

While attending Michigan Law, she was awarded a Bergstrom Child Welfare Fellowship, served as a Contributing/Associate Editor for the Journal of Law Reform, and worked as a student attorney in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic. Before attending law school, Jena completed a year of service as a domestic violence advocate through an AmeriCorps program and worked at a small private firm. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

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

Kerri Andersen, Managing Attorney read more

Kerri Andersen is the Managing Attorney in the Los Angeles office. Kerri has extensive prior experience zealously advocating for vulnerable children as an attorney at the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles where she represented thousands of foster youth in dependency court applying a child-focused best interest standard. Kerri served Native American foster youth in one of the only Indian Child Welfare Act-specialized courts in the country. She also has experience as in-house counsel for an education management organization that served at-risk youth in a role that drew on her previous tenor as a Teach for America teacher. Kerri earned her Law Degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law, her Masters of Education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and her Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of California Santa Barbara where she majored in Law & Society. She continues to mentor youth and serves on the advisory committee for a local social enterprise that provides job skills to transitional age youth.

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.

Susan Lopez, Staff Attorney read more

Susan Lopez is a Staff Attorney in the Los Angeles Office. She is passionate about the intersections of social justice advocacy and healing work, and has a deep love for immigrant rights advocacy. Prior to joining the Young Center, her work experiences included working with victims of sex trafficking in Spain, doing drug and gang intervention work in Chicago, organizing around immigrant workers’ rights issues in Los Angeles, and working on asylum cases and deportation defense at the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin. Susan Lopez has a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, a J.D. from the University of California in Los Angeles, where she specialized in Critical Race Theory and Public Interest Law and Policy, and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Chicago. When she’s not zealously advocating for immigrant rights through a culturally cognizant, trauma-informed lens, she enjoys teaching mindfulness, practicing herbalism, and making art.

Laila Alvarez, Volunteer Coordinator read more

Laila Alvarez is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s Los Angeles Office. She graduated from Pitzer College in 2018 with a degree in Human Biology. Laila first began working with immigrants at the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, a day labor center focused on advocating for social and economic immigrant justice on a state-wide and local level. As a long-term volunteer, Laila taught ESL classes, worked on local education campaigns, and organized in support of Assembly Bill 60, which granted driver’s license for undocumented residents in California. Additionally, Laila had the opportunity to work with the unaccompanied minor population in Miami as a fellow with the UCLA Labor Center, where she researched education equity policy for undocumented youth. Laila is excited to join the Young Center as she hopes to one day obtain a Juris Doctor Degree and become an immigration attorney.

Gladys Pineda, Case Support Specialist read more

Gladys Pineda is the Case Support Specialist for the Young Center’s Los Angeles office. She graduated in 2018 with a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA. Gladys’s interest in immigration began when SB1070 in Arizona had passed. In high school, she volunteered with CHIRLA and learned about the CA DREAM Act and had the opportunity to lobby for AB130 and also witness Gov. Jerry Brown sign the legislation into law in 2011. Gladys is interested in studying the aftermath of an unaccompanied minor’s release into the U.S., and the resettlement process into U.S. schools, in hopes to find a way to provide and effective trauma informed school-setting that addresses the complexities and challenges of resettlement.