Lauren Dasse, Esq.
Lauren Dasse grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and earned her B.A. in Latin American Studies and Sociology from the University of Arizona. She received her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the CUNY Law Review. She has interned with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Make the Road New York and participated in the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law. Before law school, Lauren was a Program Organizer for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona. She also worked with Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. Lauren has been with the Florence Project since August 2012, transitioning from Eloy Staff Attorney to Executive Director in May 2013.
Jamie Martin Bengtson
Jamie grew up in Phoenix, AZ, influenced by desert winds, creosote, and 1980’s pop-culture. One of the few xennials on staff, she has fond memories of trapper keepers, the original Star Wars trilogy, and is frenzied by the re-fabrication of ideas and knowledge through social media. Jamie manages FIRRP’s office systems, infrastructure, and human resources. Her interests are varied, her heart is deep. She joined the Florence Project in December 2015.
Christian Avila was born and raised in California and moved to Arizona when he was ten. While completing his accounting certificate at Central Arizona College, Christian worked at a body shop in Casa Grande. Prior to that, he assisted the athletic trainer as a member of the Health Occupation Student Association during his senior year in high school. Christian enjoys playing video games, being on Reddit, and eating pasta with white rice. He joined the Florence Project in December 2013.
Phoenix Office Coordinator
Martin Ruiz grew up in Yuma, AZ, attended Arizona Western Community College, and later transferred to ASU where he completed a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy in 2014. During his time at ASU, Martin was part of the Arizona State University eSports Association and enjoyed playing League of Legends. Shortly after graduating, he realized he was not going to make it as a pro gamer and decided to take an internship at the Law Office of Ray A. Ybarra Maldonado. During his time interning he decided that he wanted to work in the fields of immigration and law. He joined the Florence Project in January 2015. Martin enjoys spending his free time with his new family, reading comics and watching movies.
Human Resources Assistant
Paz was born and raised in Mexico City and moved to Arizona in 1999. She holds two Associate’s degrees, one in Office Technology and another in Translations and Interpretation Studies. She has volunteered serving the Hispanic community in various capacities to empower their civil and human rights. Paz is a dog person, cinephile and captivated by computer code and programming. Paz happily joined the Florence Project family in July 2018.
Edna Meza Aguirre, JD, CFRE
Director of Philanthropy
Edna was born in Tucson and is the proud first generation daughter of two immigrant parents. Raised in both the U.S. and Mexico, Edna is bilingual and bicultural. She holds her B.A. from the University of Arizona and her J.D. from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Edna brings 16 years of development experience and her CFRE certification to the Florence Project, and was most recently the Director of Development at University of Arizona Health Sciences in Tucson. Prior to that, she was the Regional Associate Development Director at Planned Parenthood Arizona for seven years. Among her favorite mainstays are culinary travel, good dinner parties, yoga, and her family. Edna joined the Florence Project as the Director of Philanthropy in March 2019 and is based in Tucson.
Greer was born and raised in Portland, Maine and holds a B.A. in Political Science from Boston College. During her time at Boston College, Greer studied in Venice, Italy where she learned Italian and had the opportunity to visit 10 other countries. She also worked as a Summer Fellow with Obama for America in the Summer of 2012. After graduating from college in 2013, Greer lived in Boston, MA where she worked on several political campaigns and at a communications and public affairs firm. Greer moved to Phoenix in September 2016 and joined the Florence Project as the Development Coordinator in January 2017. She transitioned to Communications Manager in September 2018. In her free time, Greer enjoys playing soccer, reading, traveling, and playing with her dog, Lily.
Annual Giving Manager
Carolyn moved to the Tucson area as a teenager from Vermont. She holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Arizona, is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and had the pleasure to serve on Tucson’s National Philanthropy Day Committee in 2017. Carolyn comes to fundraising from a background of support roles with a variety of non-profit organizations with causes ranging from land and wildlife conservation, to the performing arts, and family and child wellbeing. With years of experience supporting fund development strategies, Carolyn decided to focus her talents and made the official move to fundraising as a full-time profession in 2015. Unable to accept the limitations on her own ability to impact the treatment of migrants at the border and in immigration detention, she was elated to join the FIRRP fundraising team in September 2018. In their “free time”, Carolyn and her husband enjoy chasing after their two energetic children, taking care of their home, and building memories.
Community Engagement Coordinator
Originally from Chapel Hill, NC, Leah Bishop graduated from Hendrix College in Arkansas with a B.A. in Political Economy. As an undergraduate, Leah explored the intersection of faith and justice through a legal internship with Arkansas Justice for Our Neighbors, field work in Hungary and Latin America, and economic research as a Julia Mobley International Research Fellow. Since moving to Tucson, Leah has worked as a community educator and mechanic at B.I.C.A.S., a research aide for the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and a promotora for the Sonora Environmental Research Institute. In her spare time, Leah enjoys making music, writing fiction, hosting potlucks, and doing absolutely anything outdoors.
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hannah grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and earned her B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona. Before officially joining the Florence Project in August 2018, Elizabeth worked as a math tutor and volunteered with the Florence Project’s Development team. Her experience ranges from working on political campaigns to managing the science desk for the University of Arizona’s school newspaper, the Daily Wildcat. In her free time, Elizabeth loves to travel, play Ultimate Frisbee, and root for her two favorite basketball teams: the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury.
Alvaro Perez Gonzalez
Alvaro is originally from Jalisco, Mexico and was brought to the United States at the age of two. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from Benedictine University Mesa in 2018. Alvaro is part of the Human Relations Advisory Board for the City of Mesa and has interned for the ACLU of Arizona and former Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. In his spare time, he enjoys watching series on Netflix, trying new foods, listening to music, and if, enough pre-workout has been taken, going to the gym. His mother has always been an inspiration to him in growing personally and professionally. In addition, he looks up to individuals like Jorge Ramos, Frida Kahlo, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Alvaro is very excited to be part of the Florence Project, as he has always looked to work for organizations fighting for social justice and human rights.
Adult Program (Florence & Eloy)
Laura St. John, Esq.
Laura St. John grew up in California and holds her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and her J.D. from New York University. Laura has volunteered for human rights organizations in Mexico and Guatemala, and her work experience includes clerking at the Alaska Superior Court, interning at the ACLU of Southern California and Nevada, and participating in the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic. Laura enjoys playing competitive soccer and cooking Indian food. She has been with the Florence Project since March 2011, transitioning from Florence staff attorney to managing attorney in August 2012.
Lola Sophia Bovell, Esq.
Lola Sophia Bovell grew up in Miami, Florida and earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida. She continued her studies and soon after graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Women’s Studies where she completed her thesis on gender perceptions within fraternal organizations. She received her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She has interned with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and participated in the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Wisconsin Law. Before law school, Lola helped many first-generation and non-traditional students navigate the college admissions and financial aid process as an Admissions Counselor and Financial Aid Advisor at Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Lola enjoys listening to all types of music, hiking, traveling, and dancing salsa. Lola joined the Florence Project in August 2015.
Liz Bradley, Esq.
Liz Bradley grew up in central Wisconsin. She earned her B.A. in Latin American Studies from McGill University and her J.D. at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Following college, Liz worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, where she assisted with litigation and advocacy challenging indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. Her other work experience includes participating in the University of Wisconsin’s Immigrant Justice Clinic and Federal Appeals Project, and clerking with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project in Atlanta, Georgia. Liz enjoys travel, camping, and biking; she daydreams of being a sustainable farmer. She joined the Florence Project in June 2015.
Dorien Ediger-Seto, Esq.
Dorien Ediger-Seto was born in California, raised in India, and obtained her BA in Geography and Latin American Latin@ Studies from Vassar College. Following college, she worked at the Florence Project on the Children’s, Adult, and Outreach teams in a variety of roles. Dorien obtained her JD from the City University of New York School of Law, where she interned with Brooklyn Defender Services’ Immigration Unit, the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project. At CUNY, Dorien also volunteered with the National Lawyers’ Guild Parole Preparation Project, assisted CUNY undergraduates with retaining their public benefits with the Economic Justice Project, and worked with the Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic and CUNY CLEAR to advocate for and with Muslim, Arab, and South Asian New Yorkers unfairly profiled by DHS and the FBI under the pretext of national security. Prior to returning to the Florence Project in July 2018, Dorien provided legal assistance to immigrant students and their families in Tucson at the Immigration Law Clinic at the James E. Rogers College of Law. She enjoys cooking tasty food and lightly cheating at crossword puzzles.
Valentina Restrepo Montoya, Esq.
Valentina Restrepo Montoya was born in Boston to Colombian-immigrant parents. She earned her J.D. from Berkeley Law, where she advocated on behalf of asylum seekers, latinx workers, latinx tenants, and indigent defendants in criminal cases. Valentina clerked for The Southern Center for Human Rights, where she investigated language access to adult and juvenile courts. After law school, she joined The Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicating herself to litigation against The Alabama Department of Corrections for providing constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care to prisoners, and not complying with The Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to joining The Florence Project, Valentina was an assistant public defender in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys playing soccer, reading The New Yorker, practicing intersectional feminism, and rooting for The New England Patriots.
Lauren N. Kostes, Esq.
Lauren grew up in Newtown, Connecticut. She earned her B.A. in International Relations and Italian Studies at Bucknell University. She received her J.D. from the University of Connecticut, completing the Human Rights Certificate. While in law school, Lauren took part in UConn’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, and interned at Human Rights First in New York. After law school, she volunteered with Catholic Charities of New York’s I-CARE program, working with unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings. Lauren loves spending time with her large family, traveling to as many places as she can, eating Italian food, and reading romantic comedy books. She joined the Florence Project in August 2016.
Maite Garcia, Esq.
Maite is a Miami native born to Venezuelan and Cuban-American parents. She grew up in the Chicago-land area and spent her summers with family in Merida, Venezuela. Maite received her B.A. in Political Science and International Affairs from Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. While attending FSU she was involved in the State legislative process as a legislative intern and as the Political Action Chair for the Hispanic Latino Student Union. She helped organize several social justice initiatives and knew then that she wanted to dedicate herself to serving vulnerable and underserved populations. She earned her Juris Doctor from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida where she participated in the Public benefits and Disability clinic as a certified legal intern assisting clients with disabilities and their families in estate planning and applying or maintaining public benefits. After graduating in 2012, she began her career as an associate at a criminal defense firm in Miami, FL. where she defended cases in state and federal courts ranging from DUIs to white-collar crimes. Maite went on to join Americans for Immigrant Justice’s Children’s Legal Program in 2016 where she represented children in deportation proceedings before the Miami Immigration Court.
Shannon Johnson, Esq.
Shannon Johnson represents asylum seekers detained in Eloy, AZ and Florence, AZ. She graduated from Boston College Law School. She is the asylum attorney and, after law school, she was a public service fellow in Worcester, MA, working with adolescent youth and young adults in their family law and immigration matters. Prior to law school, she worked as an advocate for domestic violence survivors at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, in Los Angeles. She is trying to learn Brazilian Portuguese during her longer commutes to the Florence Office.
Alexandra Miller, Esq.
Kino Border Initiative Legal Fellow
Alex is a Tucson native and earned her B.S.F.S. in Economic Development and Social Justice at Georgetown University. She then received her J.D. from Stanford Law School, where she was actively involved in the Student Law Association and participated in the International Human Rights Clinic investigating prison conditions in Panama, indigenous land rights in Peru, and police brutality in Oakland, CA. Prior to law school, Alex spent a year in Bangkok interning with the International Organization for Migration in their counter-trafficking department. After law school, she spent four years in New York City working at White & Case LLP in their project finance practice. She was an active pro-bono contributor and member of the Black Affinity Group. In her free time, she is a proud bunny owner and tennis player. Alex joined the Florence Project in 2019 as the Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative Fellow, based in Tucson, AZ.
Rekha Nair, Esq.
PLAN Lead Attorney, Justice for Immigrants & Families Project
Rekha, a first generation immigrant who grew up in Mesa, Arizona, is the lead attorney of the Justice for Immigrant & Families Project, which was launched by the Florence Project, in collaboration with the Phoenix Legal Action Network, in January 2018. This project provides quality, free legal representation to non-detained adults facing imminent deportation in Maricopa County. Rekha previously worked as an Assistant Federal Public Defender’s Office, Managing Attorney of the Florence Project’s adult team, and clerk to the Honorable Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom in the Eastern District of New York. Rekha loves speaking Spanglish, losing herself in a book, and eating chocolate; she abhors injustice and most fruit.
PLAN Legal Assistant, Justice Immigrants & Families Project
Maddy grew up in Anchorage, Alaska and received her undergraduate degree in Culture & Politics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She is passionate about anti-violence advocacy, particularly for survivors of gender violence and hopes to bring that lens to all her work. Maddy enjoys outdoor adventures, handwritten letters, and community events. She started as the PLAN legal assistant in August 2018.
Monica Cordero-Vazquez, Esq.
Monica grew up in Morovis, Puerto Rico and earned her B.A. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Puerto Rico. She continued her studies at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Law, and soon after received her J.D. After Monica graduated from law school, she clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico and later was appointed Executive Director of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission of Puerto Rico. Upon concluding her assignment in the Supreme Court, Monica began to work in the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico, where she was assigned to challenging roles as Prosecutor, Director of the Legal Division, Assistant Solicitor General, and Special Assistant to the Attorney General. Now she decided to start a new life in Arizona with her husband and beloved children, helping immigrants and refugees through the Florence Project. Monica joined the team in October 2018.
Senior Legal Assistant
Claire was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and received her B.A. in Political Science and Spanish Literature from the University of Arizona. Shortly after she joined Teach for America where she taught a bilingual class in Denver, Colorado. During that time, she completed her Masters in Education at the University of Colorado, Denver. Claire just returned from teaching internationally in Brazil and is excited to be part of the Florence Project. In her free time she loves to rock climb and go hiking with her dog Luz.
Noah was born and raised in Mountain View, California, and holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Washington. Working as a legal assistant with the Florence Project, Noah continues to develop an evolving interest in the field of human rights and its various intersections with U.S. immigration policy, power dynamics in Central America, and law. His hobbies include being a fervent reader, swimming, and playing jazz saxophone with friends.
Anisa was born and raised in Arizona and joined the Florence Project in August 2018. Prior to joining the Florence Project Adult Team she was a Youth Program Coordinator and interim-manager at ICAN, a non-profit youth center in Chandler, AZ. Anisa received her BS from Northern Arizona University in Criminology and Criminal Justice, with a minor in Spanish. She is currently finishing Graduate School and expects to graduate with an MA in Social Justice and Human Rights from ASU in December 2018. Her experiences of working in the non-profit sector have led her to become passionate about working with vulnerable communities. After graduating from NAU she spent many years working with homeless families and at-risk youth. While at ASU she spent two years interning at various organizations in Arizona and abroad. She interned with the Phoenix Dream Center and spent time working with survivors of human and sex trafficking. She then traveled to Winneba, Ghana to intern for Challenging Heights to assist with improving the reintegration services for children who had been rescued from human trafficking. She spent time interning at the International Refugee Committee in Arizona by teaching citizenship classes to prospective U.S. citizens, before she traveled to Athens, Greece to support two organizations (Caritas Hellas and Welcommon) in their efforts to provide social services to refugees in all stages of the asylum and resettlement processes. She volunteers with Human Borders to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to maintain water stations on routes used by migrants making the perilous journey by foot to the U.S. Anisa is proud to now be a part of a team that is committed to supporting individuals who are facing deportation, and fighting against the unjust system that has been created to strip people of their humanity and forget about their existence. In her free time, Anisa enjoys hiking, traveling, spending as much time as possible in Mexico, and taking her dogs (Koa and Capone) to meet new friends at the dog park.
Antonio joined the Florence Project in April 2019 as a Legal Assistant on the DART team. Prior to that he worked at the University of Arizona as an Academic Advisor. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law and a master’s degree in Higher Education, both from the University of Arizona. He has a strong connection to the Sonoran desert as his family immigrated from Sonora, Mexico when his mom was 3 years old. Antonio’s experience includes volunteering with Tucson-based non-profit Mariposas Sin Fronteras for a number of years and serving on the Board of Directors. He is passionate about the intersection of queer and migrant identities and envisions a future free of borders where true liberation happens. In his free time he enjoys listening to new music, attending concerts, spending time with family, and traveling to new cities with no set plan and finding new adventures each day.
Children’s Program (Phoenix & Tucson)
Golden McCarthy, Esq.
Children’s Program Director
Golden McCarthy grew up in the small, hippie town of Nederland, Colorado. She traveled east to Bard College where she earned her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Latin American Studies. She spent four glorious years as an ESL teacher and then director of an adult education program in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her J.D. from City University of New York School of Law. While in law school, Golden was President of CUNY Law Moot Court and a Fellow for the Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality (CLORE) under the directive of the Honorable Jenny Rivera. She also participated in the Economic Justice Project and the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Clinic at CUNY Law. Golden is happiest when laughing and playing with her partner and her son. She has been with the Florence Project since June 2013.
Gabriela Corrales, Esq.
Managing Attorney, Tucson
Gabi, a Tucson native at heart, has always aspired to support her community. Currently, Gabi works with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, where she represents detained and released unaccompanied immigrant children. She graduated from the James E. Rogers College of Law and is published with the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal on U.S. asylum law. Prior to law school, Gabi was a member of the Teach for America Program, where she worked with some of the most vulnerable youth in Avondale, Arizona. In addition to her J.D., Gabi also has a Master’s in Secondary Education, and graduated from the University of Arizona in Political Science with Honors – Bear Down.
Eugenia Ojeda-Martinez, Esq.
Eugenia was born in Michoacan, Mexico and immigrated to the United States at the age of 6. She was raised in a small town in Idaho along with her 6 siblings. Both of her parents emphasized the importance of an education and sacrificed a lot to assure that her and her siblings and received a good education. She obtained her JD from the University of Idaho College of Law where she participated in the law school’s Immigration Clinic during her third year of law school. During her summers she interned at the District Attorney’s office in Albuquerque, NM, and for the Idaho Legal Aid in Pocatello, ID. During her free time she loves to spend it with her daughter who is her world and she loves trips to the beach where she can de-stress. She enjoys Immigration Law although it is very complex and she hopes she can make a difference during her time at FIRRP.
Patrick Helling, Esq.
Patrick Helling grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned his B.A. in history from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. After undergrad, Patrick joined the Peace Corps and served in Honduras as a Youth Development Volunteer for almost two years. He worked with children concerning issues of HIV/AIDS-youth pregnancy prevention, dental hygiene, literacy, and math education. Patrick’s Peace Corps experience inspired him to go to law school and become an immigration attorney. He earned his J.D. from Saint Louis University School of Law in 2015. Patrick is new to the Phoenix area. He enjoys exploring his new home, baseball, and Batman movies. He has been with the Florence Project since August 2015.
Jimmy Leyva, Esq.
Jimmy Leyva grew up in the border community of Douglas, Arizona. Growing up there gave him a great appreciation of the realities that face immigrants and non-immigrants when crossing the border. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from the University of Arizona. He earned his J.D. from University of New Mexico School of Law. While in law school, he volunteered with Catholic Charities to help immigrants seeking U-Visa and VAWA benefits. While in the Clinical Law Program at the University of New Mexico, he represented clients with immigration issues. He enjoys videos games, reading existential philosophy, watching professional wrestling, and pozolé. Jimmy joined the Florence Project in November 2015.
Rebecca Curtiss, Esq.
Rebecca Curtiss grew up in Tucson, AZ. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona and her law degree at the City University of New York School of Law. She learned Spanish while living in Central America and Portuguese while living in Brazil. After law school, she worked for 6 years representing parents and children in child welfare cases in Tucson at both the Pima County Office of Children’s Counsel and as a solo practitioner. She joined the Florence Project Kids Team in Tucson in December 2016. She enjoys travelling to Mexico, cooking, and hanging out with her family.
Laura Barrera, Esq.
Laura joined the Florence Project in 2019 as a Staff Attorney in the Children’s Program. Prior to that she was a fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Boyd School of Law, where she represented children and adults in removal proceedings and trained law students to become immigrant advocates. She is a proud Michigander and graduate of the University of Michigan, where she majored in philosophy and French. Laura obtained her JD from Wayne State University in Detroit. During law school she was involved in the Immigration Clinic, first as an interpreter and translator, and later as a student attorney. Her other work experience includes internships at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C., The Competition Authority in Gaborone, Botswana, the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Detroit, and the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In her free time Laura enjoys traveling and wandering around new places, going dancing with friends, and relaxing with a book. Laura is passionate about expanding access to the legal profession and believes that lawyers have a duty to make legal education more accessible to people from diverse backgrounds.
Casey Frank, Esq.
Staff Attorney, Phoenix
Casey grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Iowa in 2009 with a B.A. in English and Linguistics with TESL emphasis. The most impactful aspects of her undergraduate career were summers working at an immigration and naturalization law firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a semester in Valdivia, Chile. After college, Casey moved to Arizona, where she graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in 2015. Outside the office, she enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, game nights with friends, and traveling abroad. Her life goal is to travel to all seven continents. Casey has been with the Florence Project since April 2017.
Evan Gorelick, Esq.
Evan Gorelick grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin—Madison with a B.A. in History and Religious Studies, he worked as an organizer and director on political campaigns from Long Island to Tacoma, Washington. After working in politics, and later in craft brewing, he returned to the University of Wisconsin for law school. While earning his J.D., Evan studied worker cooperatives and participated in the University’s Immigrant Justice Clinic. Evan joined the Florence Project in August 2017. In his spare time, he enjoys martial arts, medieval history, bicycling, canoeing, and art museums.
Erin Goeman, Esq.
Erin has been with the Florence Project since January 2019. Prior to joining the Florence Project, she worked at Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services where she represented youth and young adults suffering from homelessness, abuse, or human trafficking in child custody issues in Family Court and in immigration matters, including U Visas, T Visas, VAWA cases, and SIJS. During her time at ALWAYS, Erin became even more passionate about immigrant rights and helping vulnerable immigrants who are in desperate need of legal services. Erin is a graduate of SUNY Buffalo Law School and spent several years living in Costa Rica before attending law school. She lives in her adopted state of Arizona with her husband and her daughter (her two favorite Ticos), and when she’s not at work she enjoys traveling, reading, drinking coffee, hiking, yoga, watching documentaries, and spending time with her family.
Pamela Florian, Esq.
Managing Attorney, Phoenix
Pamela, a daughter of immigrant parents, grew up in the border community of San Luis, Arizona. She obtained a B.A. in Justice Studies and a B.A. in Political Science with a Certificate in International Studies from Arizona State University. After college, Pamela moved to the Sunshine State where she earned her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law and started her work with immigrants and immigration law. In Florida, she also worked doing voter outreach, particularly to help Hispanics register to vote. For fun, Pamela loves traveling, cooking, and spoiling her Chihuahua Mojo. Pamela joined the Florence Project in July 2016.
Denisse was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and graduated from the University of Arizona where she studied Creative Writing. She then went on to work at Rincon High School for two years as part of the UA College Advising Corps Advisor pilot program. While there, she worked to ensure that low-income and first-generation college students have access to higher education, with a special focus on resources for undocumented and DACAmented students. She has participated in length with U.N.I.D.O.S (United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies) who have fought for education equity and social justice. They are known for fighting the ban on the Mexican American Studies courses in Tucson. During her free time, Denisse likes to go hiking, drink coffee and eat yummy pastries, and write stories for fun.
Edward Cott Tolentino was born under the hot Caribbean sun in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Miami, FL with his mother and two sisters. He moved to Tucson, AZ in 2014 and quickly became involved with immigrant rights, organizing against the effects of SB-1070. As a professional interpreter and translator, he has been dedicated to working with many different non profits and social justice community organizations and to promoting language justice. In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball and poker and is an ardent student of history, occasionally contributing with translations of articles and op eds to the online international news website Fort-Russ news. He loves spending time with his 8 month old nephew and sharing quality time with his family and friends. He joined the Florence Project in order to continue making a difference and to better support and assist his community.
Veronica grew up in Phoenix Arizona. She lived in Tucson for five years and moved back two years ago. She was an advocate for the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, providing emotional support and helping with crisis intervention for two years. Veronica joined the Florence Project in June 2018. She has always enjoyed working with kids and providing advocacy for children and families. Veronica is excited to work for a non profit that supports the self-determination and justice of undocumented communities. During her free time, she loves to cook, and her favorite food is ANY type of pasta. She also loves coffee.
Berenice Sanchez was born in LA County and later relocated to Moreno Valley, CA. She attended Arizona State University and received her B.A in Justices Studies with a minor in Italian and a Certificate in Socio-Legal Studies. Berenice has aspired to become an attorney since she was five years old, but she never considered pursuing a legal career in immigration. It wasn’t until her sophomore year at ASU, when she interned with the Florence Project Children’s Program that she began to consider it. She is a daughter of immigrants who came from Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico over 20 years ago. Her parents became citizens with the help of pro bono attorneys that her father found. As a result, she never lived in fear of deportation, and in the heat of this political climate, it is something she feels grateful for every single day. She is passionate about pursuing a legal career because she desires to emulate the attorneys that helped her family.
José was born in San Buenaventura, Chihuahua, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States with his family at two years old. Growing up as a part of the undocumented immigrant community in Phoenix, Arizona is an experience that continues to inspire José’s personal and professional life. He is equally committed to work that empowers Black, Brown and Indigenous youth who identify within LGB, Trans, Queer and Gender Non-Conforming communities. He is a runner and is currently training to run 50k along the Pacific Coast; getting up at 4am for a run is difficult, but not as hard as the daily struggle to avoid tacos, cheese, and horchata.
BIA Accredited Representative
Bethany Palmer, Esq.
Bethany Palmer was born and raised in the Detroit area. She obtained her B.A. in International Affairs and her J.D. from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Prior to law school, she worked as an English teacher in Martinique and China. During her final year of law school, she was a Student Attorney in GWU Immigration Clinic, representing clients in asylum matters. Following graduation, Bethany moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to represent low-income clients in Arizona and the Navajo Nation at DNA-People’s Legal Services. In 2015, Bethany moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to represent immigrant children through the Equal Justice Works Justice AmeriCorps program at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. Bethany joined the Phoenix office of the Florence Project in September 2016. In her free time, Bethany travels, practices krav maga, dances salsa and bachata, and plays with her dog.
Senior Legal Assistant
Carmen Pérez-Noyola was born in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, and she moved to the United States with her parents and two younger siblings when she was thirteen years old. She is a first generation college student, graduating from Arizona State University in May 2014 with a B.S. in Justice Studies. Carmen’s own experience with immigration and increased education on the issue while in college inspired her to pursue a career in immigration and criminal defense law. She interned with the Florence Project during her senior year at ASU and moved into the Legal Assistant position in June 2014. Carmen is fascinated by French culture, and she enjoys listening to music, dancing bachata, eating chocolate, and volunteering in her community.
Senior Legal Assistant
Yesenia was born in Mexico but has lived all of her life in the Phoenix sunshine. She studied at Grand Canyon University and while in college volunteered at a local resource center teaching English as a Second Language and English Literacy to adult students. She was granted deferred status under DACA in 2012 and started working with Unaccompanied Minors in Phoenix. Yesenia also works part-time providing care, therapy, and teaching life skills to children with special needs. In her spare time, she leads worship in the Spanish congregation at FSBCA. She has published poetry and short shorties, plays several instruments, and is a dog mom to two chihuahuas who are extremely spoiled: Pink and Pollo. Yesenia joined the Florence Project in October 2014.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Specialist
Hugo was born in Tucson, Arizona and raised on both sides of the Nogales border. A son of two Mexican immigrants, he experienced the many obstacles his parents had to overcome and became passionate about improving his home state for minorities. Hugo graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in Latin American Studies and a minor in Entrepreneurship in May of 2014. He earned a Master’s degree focused on Bi-National Agricultural Commerce from the University of Arizona in May of 2015. After graduating, he worked at the Arizona State Senate. He joined the Florence Project in November 2016 after seeing the impact he would be able to have on the lives of immigrant children. Hugo spends most of his free time in the kitchen.
Carmine Aiello, Esq.
Carmine was born and raised in Los Angeles by two immigrant parents from Guatemala and Argentina. She moved to San Diego in 2011 where she lived for seven years while she obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California San Diego and her law degree from the California Western School of Law. Carmine is passionate about criminal defense, immigration, and the intersections between the two areas of law. She enjoyed her internships with the Office of the Public Defender of San Diego and the Federal Defenders of San Diego. She also enjoyed her various internships in immigration law dealing with U visas, VAWA cases, Family-based petitions, and SIJS. She moved to Phoenix in August of 2018 to accept her dream job with the Florence Project.
Legal Assistant/Young Adult Volunteer
Dakota grew up in a small town in Wyoming. She obtained a B.A. in Spanish, political science, and international studies from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Her studies included a semester in Ecuador where she attended La Universidad San Francisco de Quito. While in college, she became very passionate about immigrants’ rights, and worked with RAICES, American Gateways, The Interfaith Welcome Coalition, and a private immigration law firm. Dakota joined the Florence Project in the Fall of 2018 as a Young Adult Volunteer (basically, a legal assistant) with the Tucson Kids’ Team. She enjoys drinking coffee, dancing, making wreaths, and biking with her husband.
Legal Advocacy & Projects
Laura Belous, Esq.
Laura Belous was born and raised in the Phoenix area. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in history and received her Master’s degree in Mexican American studies and law degree from the University of Arizona College of Law. In 2010, she received an Equal Justice Works fellowship to join the Florence Project and represent clients with serious mental illnesses in Eloy, Florence, and Phoenix. She has worked with the Pima County Office of Children’s Counsel representing children in the custody of the Arizona Department of Children’s Services. In 2013, she returned to the Florence Project and mentored pro bono attorneys representing unaccompanied children and then worked as the Tucson Children’s Team managing attorney from 2014-2018. There, she practiced before USCIS, EOIR, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She has worked as an adjunct instructor at the James E. Rogers College of Law where she taught legal writing classes to first-year law students. Laura enjoys monsoons, lazy weekend mornings, and spending time with her family. She became FIRRP’s advocacy attorney in December 2018.
Rocío Castañeda, Esq.
Special Projects Attorney
Rocío Castañeda is the Special Projects Attorney based in Tucson, Arizona. Rocío has worked with unaccompanied immigrant children, asylum seekers, immigrant survivors of domestic violence, and other vulnerable immigrant populations in Chicago, Texas, and Arizona. Before joining the Florence Project, Rocío worked with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), and Maria Baldini-Potermin & Associates. She has held several positions with the Florence Project, including Managing Attorney with the Children’s Program and KBI Legal Fellow. Rocío obtained her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and is licensed to practice law in Arizona. Rocío is from Nogales, and she enjoys carnes asadas and reading fantasy.
Pro Bono Program
Lillian R. Aponte
Pro Bono Manager
Lillian Aponte Miranda was born and grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. She has a long-standing career in public service and human rights advocacy. Prior to joining the Florence Project, Lillian served as an Associate Professor of Law at Florida International University (FIU) College of Law in Miami, Florida. During her eleven years as a professor at the FIU College of Law, Lillian taught advanced level courses on International Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights under International Law, and Complex Litigation as well as foundational courses on Civil Procedure, Property, Legal Research and Writing, and Appellate Advocacy. Lillian’s research, advocacy, and publications as a law professor focused on advancing the status and rights of historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities under international human rights law. Her work has been published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, the Oregon Review of International Law, the Lewis and Clark Law Review, and the American Indian Law Review. As a law professor, she lectured both nationally and internationally on myriad issues pertaining to the advancement of human rights for vulnerable populations.
Lillian earned her J.D. with Honors from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she served as the Articles Editor and Senior Research Editor for the University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy. Lillian began her work with the Florence Project as a pro bono attorney in September 2014 and thereafter formally joined the Children’s Program as a Staff Attorney in May 2016 prior to enthusiastically transitioning to her current position as the Children’s Program Pro Bono Mentor. She became the Pro Bono Manager in February 2019.
Pro Bono Mentor
Katharine Ruhl earned her B.A. in Art History and Latin American Studies from Wellesley College and her J.D. at the University of California, Davis, School of Law (King Hall). In law school, Katharine had the good fortune of working at the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic, assisting asylum seekers and others in removal proceedings and advising public defenders. That experience led her to Arizona, where she worked as a Staff Attorney at the Florence Project from 2007 to 2012. Before returning to the Florence Project in June of 2017, she spent five years in private practice in Arizona. She continued to develop her litigation and removal experience as an Associate Attorney with the Law Offices of Matthew H. Green and subsequently in solo practice with Ruhl Immigration. She has experience with family based petitions, naturalization, asylum, and special protections for victims of crime, in addition to her removal defense work. In solo practice, she particularly enjoyed educating and advising criminal defense attorneys on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In her free time she enjoys cooking, entertaining, and exploring the world through her rambunctious toddlers, dogs, and husband.
Roxana Avila-Cimpeanu, Esq.
Pro Bono Mentor – Children’s Program
Roxana Avila-Cimpeanu was born in Sabanagrande, Honduras and moved to the United States as a young child. She grew up in Indiana and attended Indiana University, where she earned a B.S. in Business, a B.A. in Psychology, and a minor in Spanish. Following her graduation, she served in the Peace Corps as a Community Economic Development volunteer in Costa Rica. She earned her J.D. from Boston College Law School, where she immersed herself in the fields of immigration law and juvenile rights. She enjoys plants, sunsets, eating good food, and spending time with her husband and friends. Roxana joined the Florence Project as a Staff Attorney with the Children’s Program in September 2016 and transitioned to Pro Bono Mentor in December 2018.
Pro Bono Legal Assistant – Adult Program
Luis Valencia was born in Hermosillo, Sonora in Mexico. At the age of two, he traveled to the United States with his family and proceeded to grow up in Mesa, AZ. Luis studied at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Spanish, along with a minor in Arts and Cultural Management. During his time at NAU he studied abroad for a summer in Salamanca, Spain. He also held multiple positions within the Kappa Xi chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, including President and Fraternity Education Officer. He also had the opportunity to serve as an intern for both the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra and the Sedona Film Festival. Luis joined the Florence Project in July 2016.
Pro Bono Legal Assistant – Children’s Program
Andrea Reyes was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Living in Arizona her entire life has informed her about the injustices that many immigrants actively face. Being the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, involvement with immigration has always been present in her life and extremely important to her. Andrea graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in Justice Studies in May 2015. Prior to joining the Florence Project, she worked at the nonprofit A Stepping Stone Foundation, which provides quality preschool education to unrepresented children in the Phoenix and Globe area while their parents earn a GED. While working there, Andrea quickly realized that she has a passion for helping children. This is why she has decided to help immigrants in a community that she has strong ties to by joining the Florence Project in November 2015.
Social Services Program
Kaitlin Porter, LMSW
Social Services Manager
Kaitlin (Kait) Porter grew up in northeast Pennsylvania and earned her B.A. in International Relations and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies from Ursinus College. Before attending graduate school, she worked with a transitional housing program in Colorado and as a crisis counselor for a domestic violence agency in Maryland, along with internships in Colombia and Honduras. While attending Boston College for her Master of Social Work, she worked with immigration services at a community development organization and most recently returned from Cambodia where she was working with a program for refugees and building capacity for local staff. Kaitlin joined the Florence Project in August 2015. She enjoys traveling, reading, swimming, hiking, drawing, and exploring new places.
Liz Casey, MSW
Social Worker, Adult Program
Liz was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. She attended Boston College, where she received a B.A. in History and a Masters in Social Work. Liz has previously worked in Buffalo and Boston at a residential program for people with developmental disabilities, a mentorship program for at-risk youth, and at a culinary school for unemployed adults. Always being interested in immigration, she moved to Tucson after graduate school and began working as a social worker for the Florence Project in August 2015. Liz enjoys camping, hiking, exploring, and photography.
Anna Marie Smith, LMSW
Lead Social Worker, Children’s Program
Anna Marie Smith was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She received her B.A. in Spanish and Christian Education from Presbyterian College in South Carolina. She then attended the University of Georgia where she received her Masters of Social Work. Her experience and study have always involved Spanish, immigration, and youth including a study abroad program in Quito, Ecuador and interning with the Workforce Investment Acts In School Youth Program and the social service agency Casa de Amistad. She joined the Florence Project in May 2015. In her free time, she enjoys exploring Arizona, dancing, and watching college football.
Annalise Parady, MSW
Social Worker, Adult Program
Annalise was born and raised in Wyoming before moving to Arizona in 2008 for college. After graduating, she served two terms with Public Allies Arizona. As a Public Ally, she worked at a shelter for unaccompanied migrant youth. Following that experience, she attended Boston College School of Social Work. While in Boston, she worked with Project Citizenship, providing legal services for the citizenship process, and also with the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health’s Immigrant Worker Center. Annalise has been with The Florence Project since graduating with her MSW in June 2017. In her spare time, she enjoys baking pie and growing her houseplant collection. Her pup, Bonnie, is the unofficial Florence office therapy dog.
Jessica Brown, MSW
Social Worker, Children’s Program
Jessica received a BA from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, a Master’s in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley, and is a Tamalpa Institute graduate in movement-based Expressive Arts Therapy. For over a decade, she has centered her work on providing services and advocacy for immigrant survivors of crime, primarily working in shelters, schools, and legal aid organizations. Jessica is also a dance artist, using the arts to explore memory, self-care, and social justice. She joined the Florence Project in February 2017.
Mayra Alvarado, LMSW
Social Worker, Family Separation
Mayra was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and has lived in Arizona for most of her life. She earned her B.S. in Family and Human Development and a Master in Social Work with a Latino Cultural Competency Graduate Certificate from Arizona State University. Before pursuing her master’s degree, she worked as an educator with first generation low income high students in a TRiO Program. After backing-packing Central America and volunteering in Honduras she became inspired to be a social worker in the Latinx community. She has experience working with survivors of domestic violence, victims of human trafficking, survivors of sexual assault, and unaccompanied immigrant youth. She enjoys traveling, learning about her Mayan traditions, listening to music, and reading.