Marielena Hincapié, Los Angeles office
Marielena Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, the main organization dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants in the U.S. Under her executive leadership, NILC has grown to be one of the premier immigrants’ rights organizations, strategically using a combination of litigation, policy, communications, and alliance-building strategies to effect social change. Ms. Hincapié is highly respected for her legal and political strategies and is seen as a bridge builder within the immigrants’ rights field as well as across broader social justice sectors.
Fully bilingual and bicultural, Ms. Hincapié serves as a resource and is often interviewed by media outlets such as Univisión, Telemundo, CNN en Español, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She also is a frequent lecturer at national and international conferences, addressing issues of migration, and she works closely with emerging leaders in the social justice movement. Ms. Hincapié began her tenure at NILC in 2000 as a staff attorney leading the organization’s labor and employment program. During that time, she successfully litigated law reform and impact-litigation cases dealing with the intersection of immigration laws and employment/labor laws. She then served as NILC’s director of programs from 2004 to 2008, after which she became executive director.
Before joining NILC, Ms. Hincapié worked for the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco’s Employment Law Center, where she founded the Center’s Immigrant Workers’ Rights Project. She holds a juris doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law, served on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration, and is currently a member of the Jobs with Justice and Welcome.US boards of directors.
Among the awards Ms. Hincapié has received are Univision’s Corazón Award for 2013, in honor of her commitment to the Latino community. The media company, which honors one organization and one individual each year, cited her leadership at the National Immigration Law Center as a key reason she received the award. In 2014, she received the Latina of Influence award from Hispanic Lifestyle, the National Public Service Award from Stanford Law School, and was selected as a Prime Mover Fellow by the Hunt Alternatives Fund. She also recently served as the Northeastern University School of Law Daynard Distinguished Visiting Fellow and the Practitioner-in-Residence at the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
Ms. Hincapié immigrated as a child from Medellín, Colombia, to Central Falls, Rhode Island. She is the youngest of 10 children.
Follow Marielena on Twitter: @MarielenaNILC
Executive Assistant: Claudia Lara
Legal & Policy Team
Bianca Alcala, Paralegal, Los Angeles office
Bianca Alcala provides legal assistance to the NILC litigation team, which focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation, technical assistance, and administrative advocacy. She previously worked for three years as a paralegal for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. Ms. Alcala, whose interests are immigration reform and social justice, is the first person in her family to graduate from college. She earned her B.A. in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley. After college, she obtained her paralegal certificate with highest honors from El Camino Community College in Torrance, California. Ms. Alcala grew up in South Los Angeles and is an immigrant from the Central American country of Belize.
Ellen Sittenfeld Battistelli, Policy Analyst, Washington, DC, office
Ellen Sittenfeld Battistelli works on behalf of the health and wellbeing of immigrant populations. She has more than 25 years of experience in public policy and program development focused on women's and children's health issues. She worked for three members of Congress, then served for six years on the staff of the Civil Service Subcommittee chaired by former Rep. Patricia Schroeder. Prior to joining NILC, Ellen was a policy analyst for a number of nonprofit advocacy organizations, including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Child Welfare League of America.
Tanya Broder, Senior Staff Attorney, Oakland
Tanya Broder specializes in the laws and policies affecting access to health care, public benefits and education for low-income immigrants across the United States. She writes articles and policy analyses, provides technical assistance, co-counsels on litigation, and presents trainings to legal and social service providers, government agencies, legislative staff, and community-based organizations. Before joining NILC in 1996, she worked as a policy analyst for the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights and as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County in Oakland. Ms. Broder holds a juris doctor degree from Yale Law School.
Shiu-Ming Cheer, Immigration Attorney, Los Angeles office
Shiu-Ming Cheer, an immigration attorney, focuses on challenging immigration enforcement and promoting access to legal status. Her work includes litigation, immigration reform advocacy, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals implementation. Previously, she held the positions of Soros Justice Fellow and managing attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s Los Angeles Detention Project and children’s attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. In those roles, she represented detained immigrants facing deportation. She was also the civil rights coordinator at South Asian Network and a public benefits attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. She graduated from the UCLA School of Law Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. She has a long history of involvement in social justice organizing projects, campaigns, and coalitions.
Nicholas Espíritu, Staff Attorney, Los Angeles office
Nicholas Espíritu focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation and administrative advocacy. Currently, he is litigating cases challenging state anti-immigrant ordinances and discrimination against recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). His practice also includes litigation focusing on the First Amendment and on detention issues. Previously, he was a national staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), where his docket focused on voting rights, immigrants’ rights, and the rights of low-income immigrant workers. Mr. Espíritu previously served as the Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the Judge Constance Baker Motley Fellow at the Equal Justice Society, and a senior researcher at the UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program. He earned his B.A. from San Jose State University and his J.D., with a concentration in Critical Race Studies, from the UCLA School of Law.
Kamal Essaheb, Immigration Policy Attorney, Washington, DC, office
Kamal Essaheb engages in advocacy and technical assistance relating to state and local enforcement of immigration law and access to legal status for immigrants. At NILC, his advocacy focuses on passage of the DREAM Act, implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and state and local enforcement of immigration law. Prior to joining NILC, Mr. Essaheb was a practicing immigration attorney at CUNY Citizenship Now, a nonprofit immigration legal services provider in New York City. He is a graduate of Fordham Law School, where he was a Stein Scholar in Public Interest Law and Ethics. He is an immigrant from Morocco and is fluent in Arabic.
David Hernandez, Policy Associate, D.C. office
David Hernandez provides advocacy, writing, and research support to NILC’s immigration reform campaign. Previously, he served as NILC’s D.C. office manager/research coordinator. Prior to joining NILC, Mr. Hernandez worked as a translator, interpreter, and consultant for agencies and individuals in North Carolina. He was born and raised in Mexico City and immigrated to the United States as a child. He holds a degree in International Business from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he worked extensively to advocate for diversity and immigrants’ rights in higher education.
Alvaro M. Huerta, Staff Attorney, Los Angeles office
Alvaro M. Huerta works to defend and advance the rights of low-income immigrants and their family members through litigation, administrative advocacy, and community education. His work focuses on ensuring that low-income immigrant families are not wrongly denied access to quality health care as states and municipalities implement federal health care reform. His practice also includes litigation on due process, equal protection and civil rights, and he is currently co-counsel on cases challenging anti-immigrant state legislation. Before joining NILC as a Skadden Fellow in 2011, Mr. Huerta clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Prior to law school, Mr. Huerta worked at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, where he directed the organization’s communications, community education, and advocacy strategies on various local, state, and federal immigration issues. Mr. Huerta holds a B.S. from Yale College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. He is the son and grandson of Mexican immigrants to the United States. Follow Alvaro on Twitter: @AlvaroMHuerta
Mai P. Lam. Huynh, Policy Associate, Washington, DC, office
Mai Huynh, monitors developments in federal appropriations, immigration and public benefits policy. Prior to joining NILC, she worked at several direct-service organizations, dealing with women's issues and low-income youths. She also has worked abroad with several NGOs that dealt with victims of human trafficking and domestic violence survivors. She received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and is currently working towards her Master in Public Administration at George Washington University. She is an immigrant from Vietnam.
Linton Joaquin, General Counsel, Los Angeles office
Linton Joaquin became NILC's first general counsel in September 2008 after having served as executive director since 2004. Prior to that, he was NILC's legal director. In his 35-plus years of legal practice, Mr. Joaquin has gained national recognition for his expertise in immigration law and in litigation to preserve and promote immigrants' legal rights. He has served as lead or principal counsel in numerous class action lawsuits, such as Walters v. Reno, requiring the Immigration and Naturalization Service to comply with due process in charging immigrants with civil document fraud; Orantes-Hernandez v. Meese, prohibiting the INS from coercing a nationwide class of Salvadoran refugees into abandoning their right to seek asylum, and requiring the agency to allow detained class members access to counsel and legal rights materials; and Perez-Funez v. District Director, enjoining the INS from having detained children waive their right to a hearing without first having access to legal advice. Prior to joining NILC in 1990, Mr. Joaquin served as executive director and director of litigation for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) in Los Angeles, and staff attorney for the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO. He also has taught immigration law on an adjunct basis at the University of Southern California Law School (1997) and Southwestern University School of Law (1991-1996). Mr. Joaquin holds a juris doctor degree from the University of California (Boalt Hall).
Melissa Keaney, Staff Attorney, Los Angeles office
Melissa Keaney focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation, technical assistance, and administrative advocacy. Her main work areas focus on immigration enforcement, with particular focus on programs that permit local law enforcement to collaborate in immigration enforcement. She also serves on the litigation teams challenging anti-immigrant measures in Arizona, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. Prior to joining NILC, Ms. Keaney worked for a non-profit in Israel/Palestine. Ms. Keaney holds a juris doctor degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
Gabrielle Lessard, Health Policy Attorney, Los Angeles office
Gabrielle Lessard specializes in the laws and policies affecting access to health care for immigrants and their families, in particular the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the maintenance and expansion of safety-net services for immigrants left uninsured. She writes articles and policy analyses, provides technical assistance, and presents trainings to legal and social service providers, government agencies, legislative staff, and community-based organizations. Ms. Lessard was previously the legal director of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a health policy attorney at NILC, and a Skadden Fellow at the National Economic Development and Law Center. She holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Matthew Lopas, Health Policy Fellow, Washington, DC, office
Matthew Lopas is an American University J.D. Distinguished Fellow. At NILC, he engages in policy advocacy and coalition-building to protect and improve immigrants’ access to affordable health care through federal programs and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. His work focuses on outreach and support to groups working at the state level. Prior to joining NILC as a fellow, Mr. Lopas interned at NILC and for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in the health policy office of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and he worked as a law clerk for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. Before entering the legal field, Mr. Lopas was a newspaper reporter. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a juris doctor from the American University Washington College of Law.
Don Lyster, Director of NILC's Washington, DC, office
Don Lyster manages the DC office and provides strategic support to its staff by helping direct their legislative and administrative advocacy. He also helps to develop an overall vision for NILC's policy agenda. Prior to joining NILC, Mr. Lyster was a congressional aide for ten years, serving in various capacities for Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Sen. Edward Kennedy at the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, and Congresswoman Hilda Solis, for whom he was legislative counsel and, later, chief of staff. He also worked at the American Immigration Law Foundation and a government relations consulting firm. Mr. Lyster holds a juris doctor from The Catholic University of America and a bachelor of arts from Loyola University in Maryland. He is the son and grandson of Irish immigrants. Follow Don on Twitter: @DonLyster
Sheila Miller, Senior Paralegal, Los Angeles office
Sheila Miller has extensive experience with case management, multidistrict litigation, investigative research, and court liaison at the state and federal levels. Prior to joining NILC, she worked as a supervising paralegal for a national securities litigation firm in Los Angeles. She has gained a wide breadth of knowledge in the areas of management while holding positions in several prominent law firms focusing on securities litigation, criminal defense and civil rights, including serving as an office administrator with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A certified professional in her field, she is pursuing her master's degree in business management. She is a Herbert Lehman Scholar and has served as the vice president of the board of Dare2Dream Scholarship Society, LLC.
Avideh Moussavian, Economic Justice Attorney, Washington, DC, office
Avideh Moussavian’s advocacy at NILC focuses on promoting economic justice for low-income immigrants, including access to public benefits. She has previously worked on immigration reform advocacy and state and local enforcement issues at the New York Immigration Coalition and directly represented immigrant victims of gender-based violence at Sanctuary for Families in New York City, with a particular emphasis on representing immigrants in detention or with criminal convictions. She has served as board treasurer at Families for Freedom, an anti-deportation community organizing network in New York City, and as a visiting professional with the Office of Public Counsel for Defense at the International Criminal Court. She holds a juris doctor from Boston University School of Law and a bachelor of arts from Columbia University.
Angel Padilla, Health Policy Analyst, Washington, DC, office
Angel Padilla works closely with other health project staff to develop and implement NILC’s federal immigrant health policy agenda. Prior to joining NILC in February 2014, he was an immigration policy consultant at National Council of La Raza. Before that, he was a legislative assistant for Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), advising on issues related to health care and the Affordable Care Act, among others. Mr. Padilla also has interned with the Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council and the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Nora A. Preciado, Staff Attorney, Los Angeles office
Nora Preciado focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation, technical assistance, and administrative advocacy. Her main areas of focus include immigration enforcement and workers’ rights issues. Before joining NILC, Ms. Preciado was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, where she litigated cases dealing with immigrants' rights issues and conducted extensive community outreach and education. She then joined the ACLU/SC's Los Angeles office, where she focused on immigration detention litigation and advocacy on conditions of detention. Ms. Preciado holds a juris doctor degree from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall).
Jenny Rejeske, Health Policy Analyst, Los Angeles office
Jenny Rejeske advocates for federal, state, and local policies giving low-income immigrants meaningful access to affordable health care. Prior to joining NILC, she directed the health advocacy program at the New York Immigration Coalition, where she organized advocacy campaigns aimed at improving and protecting immigrants’ access to affordable health care and health insurance, working in partnership with community-based organizations, health care providers, legal services and social services agencies and other advocacy groups. Prior to that, she worked at community health centers in New York City and Estes Park, CO. She earned her MS in nonprofit management from Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy. Follow Jenny on Twitter: @Jenny_NILC.
Ignacia Rodriguez, Equal Justice Works Fellow, Los Angeles office
Ignacia Rodriguez is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Through her project, she engages in legal and policy analysis, education, and advocacy to support the integration of low-income immigrant youth and children through access to education, health care, and other state benefits. Ms. Rodriguez’s experience as an activist in the immigrant rights movement and as an undocumented student from Chile has led to her devotion to improving the lives of low-income immigrants. While at UCLA School of Law, she worked with the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Public Counsel. She holds an A.A. from Santa Monica College, a B.A. from UCLA, and a J.D. from the UCLA School of Law.
Joshua Stehlik, Employment Attorney, Los Angeles office
Joshua Stehlik engages in policy advocacy, strategic litigation, technical assistance, and community education focused on enforcing and expanding the workplace rights of low-wage immigrant workers. Prior to joining NILC, Mr. Stehlik served as a supervising attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, where, for over ten years, he represented low-wage workers in a variety of wage-and-hour cases, unemployment insurance benefit appeals, and criminal record expungement proceedings to enhance employability. In that capacity, he also coordinated and supervised three weekly workers′ rights self-help legal clinics that assisted nearly 2,000 low-wage workers each year. Mr. Stehlik holds a juris doctor degree from Yale Law School.
Karen Tumlin, Managing Attorney, Los Angeles office
Karen Tumlin focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation and administrative advocacy. Currently she is litigating cases challenging state anti-immigrant ordinances and federal immigration detention policies. Her practice also includes litigation on due process, detention, and employment issues. Before joining NILC as a Skadden Fellow in 2005, Karen clerked for Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Prior to law school, she worked as a research associate at the Urban Institute, where she coauthored studies on immigration, welfare, and language access issues. She also spent a year as a Luce Scholar in Bangkok, Thailand, where she conducted a study on child trafficking in the region for the U.N. International Labor Organization. Karen holds a juris doctor degree and a master of public policy from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall).
Follow Karen on Twitter: @karentumlin
Communications & Development
Marisa Aguayo, Development Manager, Los Angeles office
Marisa Aguayo helps implement NILC's fund-raising goals. This includes developing fund-raising strategies, researching funding prospects and coordinating all development-related communications activities. Prior to joining NILC in 2004, she worked as a program director for the MultiCultural Collaborative, a social justice organization created after Los Angeles' 1992 civil unrest. Prior to that, she was a development associate for El Rescate, a legal and social services agency serving immigrants in Los Angeles.
Raquel Chavez, Finance & Development Coordinator, Los Angeles office
Raquel Chavez provides administrative, recordkeeping, and analytical support to help implement NILC’s development plans and strategies. She came to NILC after serving as the operations manager of and coordinating educational programming for a library and archive in South Los Angeles that documents and makes accessible the history of social justice movements in L.A. Prior to that, she was a teaching assistant at a juvenile detention facility.
Adela de la Torre, Communications Manager, Los Angeles office
Adela de la Torre coordinates communication and media outreach efforts for NILC. She serves as the organization's media contact person and facilitates interview requests. Prior to joining NILC in 2009, Adela served as a media relations specialist for The George Washington University. She may be contacted by phone at 213-400-7822.
Acasia Flores, Development Coordinator, Los Angeles office
Acasia Flores is responsible for coordinating the planning and implementation of fundraising events, including the organization’s annual awards dinner. She supports the organization’s ongoing fundraising and development efforts and maintains the administrative systems of the development department. Prior to joining NILC, she was the Director of Operations for the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Richard Irwin, Editor, Los Angeles office
Richard Irwin helps write, edits, designs, and produces the written resources NILC publishes, both online and on paper. He is also primarily responsible for maintaining and updating NILC′s website and its contact relationship management (CRM) system. He edited NILC's newsletter, Immigrants' Rights Update, from 1993 to 2011. Prior to joining NILC in 1990 as a paralegal, Richard wrote funding proposals and grant reports, staffed special events, and performed a variety of public relations/communications functions as development officer for St. Joseph Center in Venice, CA. He broke into advocacy work by serving first as a case aide, then a legalization office manager, then a developer of training and informational materials for Los Angeles Catholic Charities′ IRCA Legalization Program. Prior to that, he taught English composition at Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA.
Victoria Johnson, Online Communications Associate, Los Angeles office
Victoria Johnson coordinates and implements strategies to expand the reach of NILC's online communications — messages and other information disseminated via social media, email, and the NILC website. She made her way to NILC by way of newspaper and online journalism, including stints at the Salt Lake Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and online news start-up DNAinfo Chicago.
Nancy Peponis, Director of Development, Los Angeles office
Nancy Peponis provides strategic direction to, manages, and coordinates the expansion of NILC’s fundraising efforts. She works to diversify NILC’s revenue sources, and especially to expand support from corporations, unions, new foundations, and individuals. Before joining NILC, Ms. Peponis served as executive director of Learning Rights Law Center, a Los Angeles legal-services nonprofit, where she managed fund development, marketing, finance, strategic planning, and all administrative functions. She has a wide range of experience in the nonprofit sector, including work in child welfare, human services, health, and the performing arts. Ms. Peponis served as the development officer for major gifts at New York City’s Ballet Hispanico. Her for-profit experience has focused on marketing in the areas of entertainment (as a director of marketing for Capitol Records) and technology (as a consultant for Adobe Systems and as co-founder of a software startup). She received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor of music degree in theory and composition from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.
Finance & Administration
Armen Bazikian, Accountant, Los Angeles office
Armen Bazikian is responsible for maintaining accounting records at NILC. Before joining NILC, he worked at The Cambodian Family, a nonprofit human service organization, for 13 years. Mr. Bazikian started there as a job counselor, assisting refugees in finding employment. While working towards his degree, he transitioned into the accounting department as a bookkeeper. Mr. Bazikian has volunteered for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program for seven years, preparing individual tax returns. He also has served as an independent consultant, assisting others with tax preparation. Mr. Bazikian earned his B.A. in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from California State University, Fullerton.
Alex Casillas, HR & Administration Manager, Los Angeles office
Alex Casillas is responsible for all human resources administration as well as the overall supervision of information technology matters for the National Immigration Law Center. In this capacity, she works to ensure that NILC is compliant with human resource regulations in states in which the organization operates. In addition, Ms. Casillas uses her advanced technological expertise to ensure the safety and stability of NILC’s technological systems. Before serving at NILC, Ms. Casillas was the operations manager for a worldwide scientific and technical communication software development and marketing company. Ms. Casillas holds a PHR certification as well as a BA from California State University, Pomona.
Maria Cisneros, Junior Staff Accountant, Los Angeles office
Maria Cisneros is responsible for helping maintain fiscal order at NILC. Before coming to NILC, she served as an accounting clerk for Give More Hope, a Los Angeles–area nonprofit focused on rehabilitation. She also has served as a volunteer tax preparer with the California State University, Los Angeles Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, preparing individual tax returns and answering common tax questions. Ms. Cisneros expects to earn a B.S. in business administration from CSU-LA in August 2013.
Claudia Lara, Senior Executive Assistant, Los Angeles office
Claudia Lara provides executive assistant support to NILC's executive director, executive team, and board of directors. Prior to joining NILC in 2011, Ms. Lara served as executive administrative assistant to the Saro Mortgage Co. for three years, and as legal administrative assistant with the Bander Law Firm for one year before that. She is working to complete her bachelor's degree in political science and volunteers with the Union Station Homeless Shelter in Pasadena as well as with the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program at UCLA in Westwood, CA.
Margaret Lopez, Director of Finance and Administration, Los Angeles office
Margaret Lopez is responsible for overseeing NILC’s finances and administration. Prior to joining NILC, she served as director of financial services at Hillsides in Pasadena, CA, controller at the Pacific Asia Museum (also in Pasadena), audit manager at Whittemore & Associates Nonprofit CPAs, Inc., and auditor in various accounting firms. She has also served as an independent consultant helping the nonprofit sector and has taught immediate accounting on an adjunct basis at DeVry University. Ms. Lopez is a certified public accountant in California. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting, as well as a master of accounting degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is a first-generation immigrant.
Ashley Reveles, Office Manager, Los Angeles office
Ashley Reveles manages the daily operations of NILC's Los Angeles office. Prior to joining NILC, Ashley served as an administrative assistant at Sony Pictures Entertainment, International Media. She also volunteers as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. Born and raised in Boyle Heights, CA, Ashley received a B.A. in American Studies from Cal State Fullerton in 2010, where she was an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority.