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.
Golden McCarthy, Esq.
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 and became the Deputy Director in 2019.
Director of Human Resources
Debbie Meythaler grew up in Quito, Ecuador, is fully bilingual and bicultural, and has over 20 years of national and international experience in the human resources (HR) world. Most recently, Debbie worked for Jhpiego, an international, non-profit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, dedicated to improving the health of women and families in over 40 countries around the world. She has experience developing and strengthening HR departments, leading, promoting, supporting cohesive and team-oriented work cultures, creating various training programs for staff, recruiting, and hiring to foster a caring, diverse, and inclusive workplace. She is very excited about being part of the Florence Project. The Florence Project vision and mission hits home for her. She is honored and delighted to collaborate with her experience and expertise, supporting the most important asset of the organization. It is meaningful and exciting for her to be part of this passionate group of professionals who deeply value humans and their rights by providing hope, support, and guidance to vulnerable immigrants. Debbie enjoys spending time with her family and friends, listening to music, and reading.
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.
As Executive Assistant, Elizabeth supports the Executive Director and Board of Directors with various administrative and project management tasks. Elizabeth has a long history of providing operations, logistics, and administrative support. Most recently, she was a grant writer at Chicanos Por La Causa, and she previously worked as advance for Vice President and Dr. Biden, arranging travel and logistics for domestic and international special events. She was the director of operations at an education policy and advocacy firm in Washington D.C. and also coordinated a coalition of civil rights organizations around education rights. Elizabeth graduated from UC Santa Barbara and worked at the Chicano Studies Institute where she focused on youth empowerment and educational equity issues. Elizabeth has volunteered with Kino Border Initiative to provide humanitarian aid to migrants in Nogales and has also supported Keep Tucson Together’s work to provide legal assistance to detained migrants in Eloy and Florence. Elizabeth has been with the Florence Project since October 2019.
Greg grew up in upstate New York and earned his Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Albany State University. Prior to joining the Florence Project, Greg worked in workforce development with refugee and immigrant populations at Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Boston, MA. Following JVS, Greg became a Recruiting Manager at The Renaissance Network, an executive search firm in the education technology market. Greg has built teams for over 50 companies around the world. He has a passion for recruitment and networking with talented individuals from all walks of life. Greg strongly believes that diversity is the key to success with any organization or company. In his spare time, Greg is a part time Yoga and Fitness Instructor. He enjoys inspiring others to be their best selves and have fun. He enjoys music and spending time outdoors with friends and family.
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.
Florence Office Coordinator
Kim Penunuri has over 20 years of experience in the multiple faucets of customer service. She has obtained this experience in several diverse professional careers. Each position has brought its own distinct benefit, which has shaped Kim into the person she is today. She thrives in a professional atmosphere where her contributions and attributes help the greater good and make a positive difference in the lives she encounters. In her spare time, Kim enjoys working on her small business of custom designs called “Xylie’s”, which includes a nonprofit outreach with the message of “Be a Buddy Not a Bully”. Spreading this message is important to Kim and her family, especially her youngest son, who thought of the idea when a friend of his was bullied at school. For fun, Kim has recently dabbled in the art of Acrylic canvas painting and enjoys this as a stress reliever.
Esteban was born in Orange County, California and moved to Arizona when he was 12. He joined the Florence Project in December of 2017 as the Florence Office Coordinator and became the Donor Stewardship Coordinator in September 2019. Esteban enjoys creating and consuming all mediums of art and is inspired by individuals who challenge boundaries and smash expectations.
Daniela Figueroa was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and received her B.A from Northern Arizona University in International Affairs and a double minor in Indigenous Studies and Spanish. Having spent a semester abroad in Spain, she gained a deeper appreciation and admiration for different Spanish speaking countries and cultures. Raised and adopted by her grandmother, her father was deported at a very young age, creating a personal connection for immigrant rights and issues that fueled her passion throughout her academic career. She volunteered with Tucson Women’s Center and was given the opportunity to play a vital role in the opening of the southside office location that served women of color and those from low-income communities. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, testing different coffee concoctions every weekend, and watching Grey’s Anatomy. She aspires to become an immigration attorney and work to help those families that experience what she went through at such a young age.
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.
Gabriela Corrales, Esq.
Director of Philanthropy
Gabi, a Tucson native at heart, aspires to support her community. Before becoming the Director of Philanthropy, Gabi managed the Tucson Children’s team. In that capacity, she represented detained and released immigrant children in Southern Arizona facing the threat of deportation or prolonged detention. She has also advocated on behalf of detained children before government agencies, elected officials, and in the media. In the Tucson Community, she has served on the board of the Marshall Foundation for the past five years. She is also a board member for Los Abogados (Arizona’s Hispanic Bar Association), and a member of the Morris K. Udall American Inn of Court. A 2016 graduate from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, she published an article on U.S. asylum law with the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, received the Dean’s Award for Public Service, and received an Outstanding Oral Argument award. Prior to law school, Gabi was a member of the Teach for America Program. There, she was able to help various students obtain both regional and state science fair awards. In addition to her J.D., Gabi also has a Master’s in Education and graduated from the University of Arizona in Political Science with Honors – Bear Down!
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 and became the Development Manager in August 2019. In their “free time”, Carolyn and her husband enjoy chasing after their two energetic children, taking care of their home, and building memories.
Daniel Hernandez, MFA
Donor Communications Coordinator
Daniel Hernandez grew up in Denver and worked as a journalist in New York and Las Vegas before joining the Florence Project in Tucson in November 2019. He helps promote the Florence Project’s mission through social media posts, emails, newsletters and videos about our clients and our work. Daniel was a longtime contributor to The Guardian newspaper. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Vice, Politico, and other publications. He won the 2015 Richard J. Margolis Award as a promising new writer whose work shows a concern for social justice. In his spare time, Daniel works as a freelance book editor and enjoys reading and writing fiction.
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.
Anthony Pelino, Esq.
Adult Program Manager
Anthony Pelino is a graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law School. His dedication to pro bono services and providing legal services to indigent immigrants spans nearly three decades. Since 1994, he has worked on a wide variety of immigration cases, with a focus on human rights-based forms of relief and deportation defense.
Anthony’s journey with the Florence Project began in 1999 when he became the Project’s first out-of-state pro bono attorney. Impressed by the Florence Project’s work and mission, Anthony made two trips to Florence in 2000 to represent several detained immigrants and immediately recognized the immense need for attorneys in rural Arizona. In 2001, he relocated from Massachusetts to Arizona and continued his immigration practice representing immigrants facing deportation.
Since that time, Anthony has successfully litigated over one hundred complex pro bono matters for the Florence Project as well as hundreds of bond and merits hearings. He was the recipient of the Florence Project’s first Lifetime Achievement Award and was named the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year by the Political Asylum Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project of Boston. In 2017, Anthony came on staff as a contract attorney to assist the Children’s Program with a surge in asylum interviews. He joined the Florence Project team full time in 2018 and has managed the Border Action Team, the Mental Health Team, the Phoenix Legal Action Network (PLAN), the Direct Representation Team, and the Asylum Program. In 2019, he became the Florence Project’s first Adult Program Manager wherein he oversees all teams and initiatives serving adults. In his free time Anthony enjoys spending time with his family and traveling. He has lived in Cairo, London, Cambridge, MA, and both Florence, Italy and Florence, AZ.
Rekha Nair, Esq.
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.
Jessica Michell Alvarado, Esq.
Jessica is a native Phoenician and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. Growing up she spent her summers exploring Guatemala with her parents and getting to know her Mayan culture. Jessica graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in Psychology, a B.S. in Justice Studies, and a Minor in Women’s Studies. She obtained her J.D. at Arizona Summit Law School. Throughout her life, Jessica has been involved with various organizations that are close to her heart such as the Upward Bound Program and Public Allies Arizona. Her most memorable experience was working with Special Education Preschoolers who taught her how to paint with her feet, fly kites, and be patient with the world. Her hobbies include going on adventures and spending time with her family. Jessica rejoined the Florence Project in November 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.
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.
Border Action Team Managing Attorney
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. Alex became the Managing Attorney of the Border Action Team in April 2020.
Terry was born and raised in Upstate NY. She earned a B.A. from Northwestern University with majors in History and Music and a minor in German. After graduation, she spent a year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant living in Dresden, Germany, where she volunteered with the local refugee community. As a law student, Terry advocated for immigrants’ rights as a clinical student in the Harvard Immigrant and Refugee Clinical Program and served as president of the Student Mental Health Association. She joined the Florence Project in September 2019. In her free time, Terry enjoys playing violin in the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, exploring local hiking trails, and cuddling with her cat, Merlin.
Gregory Fay, Esq.
Greg graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU in May 2019, and was the Florence Project’s 2018 Equality Arizona LGBTQ Fellow. Originally from Enfield, CT, Greg earned his B.A. in East Asian Studies and Linguistic Anthropology from Brown University and was a 2008 Fulbright Fellow in Urumchi, China. Before law school, Greg worked at the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, DC and the Committee to Protect Journalists in NYC. In his free time, Greg runs with the Phoenix Frontrunners, and enjoys pop music and TV dramas in English, Spanish and Chinese. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Phoenix Legal Action Network (PLAN).
Suzannah Maclay, Esq.
Senior Staff Attorney
Suzannah Maclay grew up in New York and Maine. She has a BA from Northwestern University, an MA in English Literature from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and a JD from Northeastern University. In 1999, she drove from Massachusetts to live in Florence, Arizona, where she served as Florence Project staff attorney for six years. She returned to the Florence Project in 2020 after 14 years of solo immigration practice in Phoenix. Before settling on a career in law, Suzannah dabbled in academia, vinegar importing, cheese purveying, food writing, and surly cocktail waitressing. She spent a couple of years on the road in South and Central America. She was, briefly, a goatherd, before beginning work with social justice organizations in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She lived in Chiapas, Mexico, where, at the invitation of Zapatista communities, she assisted in resettling displaced villages, initiated a community-based protective accompaniment program, and documented human rights abuses committed by the Mexican army. During law school, she worked with migrant farmworkers in Maine and on the El Paso/Juarez border, took a leave of absence to ride her bicycle sola across Mexico, and graduated. More recently, she has volunteered to assist asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico and has conducted ad hoc Know Your Rights presentations for migrants in Yuma, Arizona, on the sidewalks of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, and in Phoenix. When she isn’t working, Suzannah hikes with her dog, cooks, bikes, picks up litter, reads, and paddleboards.
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.
Isabel joined the Florence Project in November 2019 as a Legal Assistant to the Mental Health Team, soon after returning home to Tucson after 9 years away. Prior to that, Isabel spent time working as a research assistant to the Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, and as a Spanish-speaking clinical social work intern at an outpatient mental health clinic in Brooklyn, NY. In 2017, she received a Henry Luce Foundation fellowship to work with a grassroots community organization focused on issues affecting the lives of migrants in Thailand and returned migrants in Myanmar. Isabel is currently a graduate student at Arizona State University School of Social Work, and in 2015 she graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a bachelor’s in Psychology and minors in Latin American and Ethnic Studies. A dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S. with family on both sides of the border, Isabel is dedicated to supporting the well-being, mobility and power of migrants and immigrants. In her spare time, Isabel enjoys baking, taking road trips, spending time with friends and family, and spoiling her pets.
Maritza Jimenez Chavez
Maritza is native to Tucson, Arizona and the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. Growing up, her parents always reminded her of her roots and culture by taking her to visit their home town in Guanajuato, Mexico. Maritza earned her degree in B.S. in Criminal Justice and a minor in Spanish from the University of Arizona. She has been involved with and believes in advocating and giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Maritza began as a victim advocate with the Pima County Victim Services Division, working with a vast array of victims of domestic violence, sexual trauma, and homicides and later transitioning to becoming a high needs case manager, helping children who have experienced sexual trauma and have suicidal ideations. In her spare time, Maritza enjoys spending time with her family and dogs and taking trips across the country. Maritza joined the Florence Project in December 2019 as a legal assistant for the DART team.
Lauren N. Kostes, Esq.
Interim Managing Attorney
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.
Luis Herrera, Esq.
Luis joined the Florence Project in October 2019 as the Asylum Attorney. An immigrant himself, Luis shares a deep passion for immigrant rights and is excited about the opportunity to advocate for our clients experiencing detention. Luis spent the majority of his childhood in Arizona, where he attended Grand Canyon University for his undergraduate studies. He later graduated from Baylor University School of Law, where he distinguished himself as a top courtroom and appellate advocate through trial advocacy and moot court programs, winning national titles and awards for his top-notch work. In his spare time, Luis enjoys spending time with his family and playing his violin around the valley with his mariachi group.
Alvaro Perez Gonzalez
Asylum Legal Assistant
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. Alvaro joined the Florence Project in January 2019 as the Volunteer Coordinator and became the Asylum Legal Assistant in October 2019.
Amy Kimbel, Esq.
Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow
Amy joined the Florence Project in September 2019 as the first Immigrant Justice Corps Justice Fellow to be placed in Arizona. Amy grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has a B.A. in Spanish from Yale University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law and Policy. In law school, Amy focused on human rights in Latin America and worked in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. After college, Amy did community development work in Mexico City. She has also assisted immigrants in obtaining public benefits and addressing housing issues as a paralegal at Inner City Law Center and Public Counsel in Los Angeles. In her spare time, Amy is an avid hiker, reluctant jogger, and part-time dog owner.
Kino Border Initiative Legal Assistant
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. Leah joined the Florence Project as the Community Engagement Coordinator in September 2018 and became the Kino Border Initiative Legal Assistant in September 2019.
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.
Senior Legal Assistant
Eva is a proud daughter of immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico. She was fortunate to grow up learning to speak Mixteco (an indigenous dialect from Oaxaca, Mexico) and Spanish. She graduated with Honors from the University of Arizona in May 2017 with degrees in B.S. Global Studies and B.A. Psychology and minors in Business Administration and Spanish. As a college student, Eva spent a summer studying abroad in Guatemala, where she interned at the Procuraduria de los Derechos Humanos and conducted field research on the psychosocial impacts of political violence in Guatemala. During her senior year, she interned for Congressman Raul M. Grijalva in Tucson, AZ, where she worked directly with administrative and casework staff to handle constituents’ concerns and advocated for the Latinx community. Upon graduation, Eva received the Outstanding Senior Award from the University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni Association for her commitment to serving the Latinx community. Eva dedicated a year of community service in Providence, RI in her position as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) through Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service. She joined the Florence Project in August 2018. Her ultimate goal is to become an immigration attorney and advocate for human rights. She enjoys traveling, hiking, and engaging with her community.
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.
Rebecca Hammen was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, where she earned her B.A. in Foreign Affairs at the University of Arizona. Shortly after finishing her studies, she began to volunteer for the Immigration Workers’ Rights Clinic, as well as closely work on a gender-based asylum case, alongside a pro bono attorney. She has made advocacy for Human Rights, and the creation of a more just and humane way of processing people in immigration proceedings, the pursuit of her career. She is passionate about food, the environment, local grassroots organizations, international and immigration law, politics, and global policy concerns. As a Legal Assistant with the Florence Project, Rebecca looks forward to advocating for policy change, while offering much needed support to the immigrant and refugee community. In her free time she enjoys playing with her dog, reading, spending time with friends and family, traveling, and doing yoga.
Sarah Arnold was born and raised in Massachusetts and earned her BA in Comparative Literature and Spanish from Smith College, with a concentration in Community Engagement and Social Change. From 2015 to 2019 she worked at Action for Boston Community Development, connecting low-income Boston residents with community resources and supervising a summer job and training program for low-income young adults. With experiences studying and volunteering in Havana, Guatemala City, and Lima, Sarah decided to move to Arizona in September 2019 to fight for the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. After volunteering with Phoenix-based community groups and nonprofits such as Refugee Aid, Lutheran Social Services, and the International Rescue Committee, she joined the Florence Project in December 2019 as a DART team legal assistant. In her free time, Sarah enjoys keeping up with old and new friends, playing video games, and going salsa dancing.
Legal Assistant & Case Manager
Martín was born under the cozy, heather skies of the Pacific Northwest where he was raised in a mixed-status household. A National Hispanic Scholar, Martín graduated from Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University in 2018 with a B.S. in Urban Planning and a Minor in Sustainability. Martín developed his passion for working in service of vulnerable populations through internships at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the Maricopa Association of Governments, and the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel. He joined the Florence Project in the spring of 2019.
Children’s Program (Phoenix & Tucson)
Lillian R. Aponte
Children’s Program 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 the Children’s Program Pro Bono Mentor role. She became the Pro Bono Manager in February 2019 and became the Children’s Program Manager in late 2019.
Jimmy Leyva, Esq.
Senior Staff Attorney
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.
Senior Staff Attorney, Tucson
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.
Managing Attorney, Tucson
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. Laura became Managing Attorney of the Tucson Children’s Program in March 2020.
Casey Frank, Esq.
Managing 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.
Erin Goeman, Esq.
Senior Staff Attorney
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.
Casey Dempsey, Esq.
Staff Attorney, Phoenix
Casey joined the Florence Project in August 2019. Prior to that, she spent three years practicing civil litigation, family law, and business law in North Carolina. Casey graduated from Charlotte School of Law in 2016. While in law school, Casey interned with the juvenile and family court judges of the 26th Judicial District. She also worked with the Council for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal representation to court-involved youth. Casey became a lawyer because it allows her to be of service to her community, and she is dedicated to helping children navigate the legal system. In her spare time, Casey enjoys spending time with her family, kayaking, playing musical instruments, and playing with her hound dog, Penny.
Law Graduate, Phoenix
Anthony Galvez joined the Florence Project in October 2019. His father immigrated to the United States during El Salvador’s civil war. As such, Anthony recognizes the complex nature of our legal system and the importance of legal representation for immigrants. Growing up, he had the opportunity to live in several states because his father served in the US Air Force; however, Anthony considers Arizona to be his home. After high school, he volunteered for two years to serve a humanitarian/ecclesiastical mission in Argentina. Upon returning to the United States, Anthony received his B.A. in Political Science from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. After college, he attended Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska. While attending law school, he worked as a legal clerk for the US Air Force Jag Corps and for a law firm that specialized in property law. Anthony also had the opportunity to work at Creighton’s Immigrant and Refugee Clinic where he developed a passion for providing legal assistance to the most vulnerable communities. In his free time, he loves to run races and spend time with his family.
Olivia Linn, Esq.
Staff Attorney, Phoenix
Olivia was born in Texas and grew up in the south Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff where her community sparked a lifelong passion for understanding and advocating for racial and economic justice in the U.S. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in the City of New York and a Juris Doctorate with specializations in critical race theory and public interest practice from University of California in Los Angeles. Before joining the Florence Project in 2019, Olivia served low-income residents of Los Angeles County in family law and domestic violence matters. In her free time, Olivia enjoys playing with her two dogs, high alpine backpacking, soaking in undeveloped hot springs, refinishing hardwood furniture, cultivating succulents, eating tacos and pozole, and listening to rap.
Lizmarie Mena-Feliciano, Esq.
Staff Attorney, Phoenix
Lizmarie has been with the Florence Project since October 2019. She worked as an Early Childhood educator for a year in Tucson, AZ. Prior to that, she spent 2 years in Puerto Rico as a private attorney, mostly working with Family Law. She obtained her bachelor degree in Political Science from the University of Puerto Rico of Mayagüez with a minor in Education. During her university years Lizmarie was involved as a volunteer with the CUA, a program run by the University of Puerto Rico, that focuses on helping minors that were at risk of deserting school. Lizmarie graduated with honors in 2014 from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico School of Law. In her free time Lizmarie enjoys going hiking and camping with her family. Lizmarie’s motivation to be part of the Florence Project is her passion for human rights and social equality.
Denise 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, Denise likes to go hiking, drink coffee and eat yummy pastries, and write stories for fun.
Veronica grew up in Phoenix, AZ. 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.
Crystal Perez was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. She received her B.A. in Business Law from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The most impactful aspect of her undergraduate career was her involvement within the Hispanic Business Student’s Association (HBSA) at ASU. She graduated as president of the organization leading a 14-member executive board who focused on offering leadership, professional development, and social opportunities to the Hispanic community. She also served as a Residential Assistant (RA) for 3 years where the team focused on promoting diversity and inclusion to incoming freshman. In her free time, Crystal enjoys practicing Mariachi music on her violin. She is a daughter of immigrants who came from the humble town of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Her parents struggled to give her the opportunities that she has today as a U.S. Citizen. Crystal dedicates everything she does to her loving mother and is passionate about pursuing a career as an attorney to help people like her family.
Anthony R. Trujillo
Anthony was born and raised in California but called the Central Valley home before moving to Arizona in 2015 to attend Arizona State University – Tempe. In four years, he was able to earn three degrees in Spanish Linguistics, Political Science, and Geography (all with concentrations in Latin America) and a minor in Transborder Studies. Anthony is passionate about learning languages as he believes that it is a vital tool in developing intersectional communities. He maintains fluency in Spanish, English and Portuguese all while currently teaching himself Náhuatl, German and French. In his free time Anthony loves to create recipes and especially spending time with his loved ones over comida hecho en casa.
Managing Accredited Representative
Cristina grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico aka “La Isla del Encanto”. She earned her B.A. from the Pennsylvania State University in International Relations with minors in International Studies, Sociology, and French. After undergrad, she attended Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, MA, graduating in May 2016. During law school, she worked as a Law Clerk for Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP in Boston. She also worked with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. in Mexico City providing direct services and legal representation to migrants with claims relating to their employment in the United States, and with the Human Rights Commission of the City of Boston drafting policy addressing racial and social justice. Cristina joined the Phoenix office of the Florence Project in September 2016 and became Managing Accredited Representative in July 2019. She loves to cook and travel. Being new to Arizona, she looks forward to exploring all that Arizona has to offer.
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.
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.
Andrew Seaton, Esq.
Andrew has been with the Florence Project since August 2019. Prior to joining the Florence Project, Andrew spent fives years as an Associate Attorney at an insurance defense firm in New York, where he litigated a variety of cases from inception through trial. Andrew earned his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law, where he had the opportunity to take part in the Economic Justice Clinic, providing free legal assistance to low income New Yorkers. Andrew also received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Studies from the University of Arizona. In his spare time, Andrew enjoys spending time with his family and playing and recording music. Andrew finds strength in the Seaton family motto, “Hazard Yet Forward.” Andrew joined the Florence Project to reunite children with their families, and to provide stellar legal assistance to immigrant and refugee children.
Senior Legal Assistant
Ana is a first-generation xicana from Nogales, Sonora, México and South Tucson. She obtained her B.A. in Law and Spanish Literature from the University of Arizona in May 2018. Prior to joining the Florence Project, Ana formed part of the UA Immigrant Student Resource Center as a college navigator. There, she fought alongside undocumented students to expand and create resources for DACA and undocumented students on campus. She also served on Scholarships A-Z’s executive team for 3 years as the Student Action Committee Director and the Dream Educational Empowerment Program Liaison with United We Dream. Both of these groups strive to make education accessible to all students regardless of their immigration status by challenging policies and uplifting the voices and the leadership of undocumented students and families. Ana enjoys cheesy jokes, dancing, reading, and fighting against systemic injustices.
Jeannette comes to FIRRP with years of experience at Catholic Community Services of Tucson, Arizona and, prior to that, at Southern Arizona Legal Aid. She has a proven track record helping those in need. Having been born and raised in a border town, Jeannette is motivated by the many injustices she witnesses while growing up. More recently, Jeannette was a BIA Accredited Representative and helped survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault empower themselves with legal status. She has a degree in Legal Studies and is a member of the National Honor Society ALPHA BETA KAPPA.
Max was born and raised in Oregon, attended college in the South, and moved to Arizona shortly after graduating. He holds a degree in International Relations from Hendrix College and has volunteered in the past as a researcher and as an activist with No More Deaths and the Colibri Center for Human Rights. Before becoming involved in border justice issues, Max worked as a camp counselor, as a music instructor, and as a guitar player in the Pacific Northwest’s second-best youth bluegrass band. He enjoys reading, cooking, and road trips. He could not be more thrilled to call Tucson home.
Brenda Morales Meza
Brenda is originally from Michoacan, Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of one. She grew up a small rural town in Central Valley, California, surrounded by a strong, Latino, farm working community. She graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Education Studies. After graduating from college, she spent nine months in Spain working as an English Teaching Assistant with the Fulbright Program. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with loved ones, watching Netflix, and reading books. She thanks author Sandra Cisneros for sparking her love for reading.
Sofia graduated with a B.A. in International and Comparative Politics and a B.A. in History, Law, and Society from the American University of Paris. While in Paris, she interned with international organizations such as the OECD and represented her university at the Athens Democracy Forum organized by the New York Times and the UN. However, she felt called to pursue the humanitarian work with migrants in Paris she was involved in. Her thesis discussed the unique ways that nonprofits promoted migrant rights in France, and also compared American and French nonprofits’ dialogues with governments as well. Sofia grew tired of watching from abroad the worsening conditions on the border and returned home to Phoenix and joined the Florence Project in July 2019. Growing up in an immigrant household, speaking Spanish and Greek, she has always considered herself a global citizen and hopes to foster a community of cultural sensitivity. Sofia enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking for her friends and family.
Victoria Tenorio Montoya
Victoria was born and raised in Chandler, Arizona to immigrants originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Growing up, Victoria spent her summers in her parents’ small hometown in Mexico and grew a love for her beautiful Mexican heritage. During her sophomore year of college, Victoria got her first job as a canvasser for the 2016 election and realized her passion for immigration and helping the Latinx community. Victoria graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University with a BS in Business Management and a BA in Transborder Studies with a focus on Immigration Policy and the Economy. Victoria is also a proud sister of Kappa Delta Chi Sorority Inc. and the Obama Foundation’s Community Leadership Corps 2018. In her spare time, Victoria loves to cuddle her cats, sing at the top of her lungs at home, and fantasize about interior decoration whilst looking at homes on Zillow.
Victoria grew up in a small northern Michigan town alongside Lake Huron and went on to earn her B.A. in International Studies from the University of Michigan. She was a proud student of the Residential College language program, which taught her to fight for what she believes in through both the Spanish and French languages. Before coming to the Florence Project, she worked with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Justice for Our Neighbors of Southeastern Michigan, and the International Rescue Committee in Sacramento. In Argentina, she volunteered with the educational programs of Fundación Pilares while completing a semester of law and social work classes at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and the Universidad Torcuato di Tella. Since she is new to Tucson, Victoria is very excited to continue exploring all of the amazing food and hiking the area has to offer.
Elizabeth is a proud Oaxaqueña from Los Angeles, California. She received her B.A. in Geography from UCLA and served as a Youth Development Volunteer in Morocco with the United States Peace Corps before joining the Florence Project. Prior to volunteering with Peace Corps, she served as an intern with Empower Bangkok, where she collaborated on Know Your Rights workshops and ESL classes with women in the sex-trade industry. On her weekends, you can find Elizabeth hiking around Arizona trails, reading, and testing out new baking recipes.
Teresa is a first generation Latina graduate born and raised in Chandler, AZ. She attended the University of Arizona where she received her B.S. in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology. As an undergraduate Teresa volunteered and interned for non profits in the Tucson community dedicated to providing food and resources to at risk youth, undocumented families, and vulnerable populations. She was able to further her volunteer work as a sister of Kappa Delta Chi Sorority Inc. a Latina founded serviced based sorority. Upon graduating in 2017 she continued to pursue her passion of helping vulnerable immigrant populations in Arizona and began working with Unaccompanied Minors. Teresa joined the Florence Project in 2020 as a legal assistant in the Phoenix Children’s Program. In her free time, she loves to go back to Tucson and eat all the amazing food it has to offer, attend concerts, and spend time with her dogs.
Jesus was born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela and moved to Arizona in 1999 to attend Arizona State University graduating with a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering in 2002. He has been volunteering with foster kids for many years and in the last few years, served as an advocate for the CASA program here in Arizona. In his free time Jesus likes to spend time with his family, which includes two awesome dogs, and go scuba diving whenever possible.
Juan S. Bustos Caro
Juan is the son of two loving parents that devoted their careers to traveling around the world advocating for the most vulnerable individuals of society. He lived his early childhood in Quito, Ecuador, to then moved to Nairobi, Kenya where he spent his most memorable childhood years as the only Latin American in a large British elementary school. Later on, he moved back to Latin America and spent a few years between Ecuador and Panama, to then move to Santiago de Chile, where his family is originally from. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, he started working at the ‘Centro de Estudios Justicia y Sociedad’, as a project coordinator and researcher for projects related to social justice and human rights issues. Juan recently came to Arizona and joined the Florence Project in April 2020 and is very proud to now be part of a team committed to supporting and safeguarding individuals that are facing deportation and being unfairly persecuted. In his free time, Juan has a lot of fun walking and playing with his two dogs, reading, hiking, traveling, working on house projects, and cooking.
Lex is a proud first generation Chicanx who was born and raised in Tucson. Their parents raised them to be proud of their Mexican heritage and they frequently visited family in Mexico. Growing up in Tucson and visiting Mexico so often opened their eyes to the immigration issues their family and others like them faced at a young age and knew they needed to fight injustices somehow. Lex graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s in Public Management and Policy, a degree that allowed them to see how they could organize disadvantaged communities around public policy. While obtaining their degree at the University of Arizona, Lex dedicated all four years to working for Pride Alliance, a student run organization which generates programming for the LBGTQ+ community on the UA campus and the broader Tucson area. They strongly believe in the Florence Project’s vision and are passionate about incorporating an intersectional framework into their organizing and believes true liberation cannot be achieved without solidarity between all identities. Lex joined the Florence Project in June 2019 and is excited to bring their knowledge and experience to the organization! Lex became a Legal Assistant with the Tucson Children’s Team in June 2020.
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.
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, KBI Legal Fellow, and Special Projects Attorney. 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.
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 in a Globalization and Sustainability Program with students from universities all over the world. 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.
Advocacy 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 and joined the Advocacy Team in October 2019.
Pro Bono Program
Pro Bono Managing Attorney, Adult Program
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 Managing Attorney, Children’s Program
Roxana Avila-Cimpeanu was born in 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, transitioned to Pro Bono Mentor in December 2018, and became Pro Bono Managing Attorney in December 2019.
Evan Gorelick, Esq.
Pro Bono Mentor, Children’s Program
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 and joined the pro bono team in July 2019. In his spare time, he enjoys martial arts, medieval history, bicycling, canoeing, and art museums.
Maite Garcia, Esq.
Pro Bono Mentor, Adult Program
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. Maite joined in the Florence Project in spring 2018 and joined the Pro Bono Team in July 2020.
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 Program 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.
Anna Marie Smith, LMSW
Managing Social Worker, Children’s Program
Anna Marie Smith was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Anna Marie grew up watching social justice as her parents, an attorney and a social worker mirror traits that later would play an important role in Anna Marie’s career. She received her B.A. from Presbyterian College in South Carolina and continued her education, earning her Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. Anna Marie’s compassion for social justice in the immigration system grew from her experience studying abroad, interning with WorkForce Investment Acts in School Youth Program and Casa de Amistad, a social services agency. Anna Marie joined the Florence Project in May 2015 as the first social worker for the Children’s Program. As Anna Marie advocated for the children going through immigration proceedings, she moved up to Lead Social Worker mentoring and supervising the MSW interns in the Phoenix and Tucson offices. Anna Marie now is a Managing Social Worker for the Children’s Team. In her five years working with the Florence Project, she has created systems and structures for the children social service program to provide best practices for our clients.
Mayra Alvarado, LMSW
Managing Social Worker, Adult Program
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. Mayra became the Managing Social Worker for the Adult Program in February 2020.
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.
Annalise Parady, MSW
Social Worker, Children’s 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 and transitioned to the Children’s Program in August 2019. 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.
Kimberly Vazquez, MSW
Social Worker, Children’s Program
Kimberly was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. She has rejoined the Florence Project after interning with the social services team during her Master’s year in the summer of 2019. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago, where she completed both her BSW and MSW with a concentration on children and families and a sup-specialization in work with immigrant communities. In her various positions at Latino serving nonprofits, she has worked with children and adolescents in case management and mentorship roles. Coming from a mixed status family, her immigrant parents instilled in her the belief to use her privilege to serve others, which she intends to do in this new position. While she is still getting used to the heat, she will not miss slipping on ice in front of other people. On the days Kimberly is not working, she can be found hiking, trying new recipes but not following what’s exactly written, and trying to build community in her new home. She lives by the motto to always be useful.
Marylin Arevalo, MSW
Social Worker, Children’s Program
Marylin was born and raised in Yuma, AZ. As the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, she grew up very aware of the issues faced by immigrant individuals and families making them very important to her and her career. Prior to joining the Florence Project in July 2020, Marylin worked analyzing data produced by programs serving justice involved and foster youth and overseeing a housing program for former foster women. Her experience also includes conducting child abuse and neglect investigations for the Department of Child Safety and expanding outreach of food and nutrition programs to Latinx communities across the country through the USDA. Marylin holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Arizona State University along with a Master of Social Work, Master of Public Administration, and a Certificate of Public Policy from the University of Southern California. In her free time, Marylin enjoys working out, reading, and exploring new restaurants and places.
Virginia Rodriguez, MSW
Social Worker, Children’s Program
Virginia was born in Nogales, Mexico and immigrated with her family to the San Joaquin Valley in California when she was five years old. Her parents were migrant farm workers and Virginia spent her summers working in the fields picking oranges, grapes and tomatoes throughout her childhood from the age of nine. After graduating from high school, Virginia went to school at the University of Washington where she majored in Comparative History of Ideas. Her first job after college was at a domestic violence shelter as a program manager for the Spanish speaking survivors program. In 2008 Virginia returned to the University of Washington to pursue her MSW. In 2012 after 16 soggy years living in Seattle, she, her husband and two boys moved to Arizona seeking sunny skies and new adventures. Virginia has worked with victims of crime at the Pima County Attorney’s Office in Tucson and most recently was employed at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office traveling around the state teaching victims’ rights law.