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.
Florence Office Coordinator
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.
Tucson Administrative Assistant
Gabrielle’s life and studies began in North Texas. As she grew older and pursued a college education, her desire for adventure inspired her to explore many countries. This exploration led her to volunteer in Mexico, work in a Honduran children’s home, live in an indigenous village, study in Spain, etc. After a brief internship with La Coalición de Derechos Humanos in the Spring of 2015, Gabrielle made the swift decision to pursue a career in social justice centered on today’s border issues-thus, uprooting her life to Tucson in Fall 2015. Gabrielle has a degree in Spanish, International Studies, and Latin/Mexican-American Studies. Since her father was not raised to speak Spanish, Gabrielle is always striving to improve her language skills. Although she misses home, Gabrielle loves the mountainside view from her apartment-something she never gets to see in Texas. Gabrielle happily joined the Florence Project in January 2016.
Amalia Luxardo, ABD
Development and Research Director
Raised in Miami, Amalia is a first generation immigrant from Argentina. Amalia first began her work with under-served communities with Legal Aid Society in DC, while earning her Master’s in International Relations at the Catholic University of America. Amalia went on to work with Lutheran Social Services of the SW Tucson, where she was the Immigration Program Manager and only native Spanish speaking BIA accredited representative to serve the Tucson Hispanic community at large. Thereafter, Amalia worked as an Advisor on Migration Policy to Assistant Secretary Anne Richard with the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration at the Department of State. Currently, Amalia is finishing her PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution with a portfolio that includes migration and refugee policy, globalization, Latin American studies, and humanitarian law. Amalia joined the Florence Project enthusiastically in July 2016.
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
Carmen was born and raised in the DC metropolitan area and holds her BA from Swarthmore College. Before joining the Florence Project staff, Carmen taught English classes for adult refugees in Philadelphia and later worked at a migrant shelter in El Paso. Prior to being the communications and outreach coordinator, Carmen worked as a legal assistant in Eloy with the adult program and became an accredited representative. She spends her free time baking, dancing and climbing.
Greer Millard was born and raised in Portland, Maine and holds a B.A. in Political Science from Boston College. Greer came to the Florence Project after living in Boston, MA for several years 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 in January 2017. In her free time, Greer enjoys reading, traveling, and playing with her puppy, Lily.
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, Berkley 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.
Annabel Barraza was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona and earned her B.A. in Latin American Studies and Chicano Studies from Scripps College. Before joining the Florence Project, Annabel completed an English teaching Fellowship with Fulbright in Mexico. Her experience ranges from organizing day laborers in Pomona, California, as well as organizing with the Bus Riders’ Union in Los Angeles, to studying public policy in Washington D.C. and working with a UNHCR organization in Ecuador. She joined the Florence Project with loads of enthusiasm July 2015 as the Florence Legal Assistant. Annabel loves burritos, dancing, and fighting systemic injustices.
Liz Bradley, Esq.
Mental Health Attorney
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.
Valentina Restrepo Montoya, Esq.
Mental Health Attorney
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.
Charles Vernon, Esq.
Senior Mental Health Attorney
Charles Vernon grew up in New York and Colorado and holds his B.A. from Boston College and J.D. from the University of Arizona. Before attending law school, Charles worked with the Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas and was a bus driver in Boulder, Colorado. Charles is an avid rock climber and also enjoys reading mystery novels, poetry, and making complex legal arguments. He has been with the Florence Project since January 2012.
Shannon Johnson, Esq.
Asylum Representation Attorney
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.
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.
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.
Laura Belous, Esq.
Managing Attorney, Tucson
Laura Belous was born and raised in the Phoenix area. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in history and received her law degree from the University of Arizona College of Law. Between 2010 and 2012, she worked as a Mental Health Fellow with the Florence Project and represented clients with serious mental illnesses in Eloy, Florence, and Phoenix. She enjoys monsoons, lazy weekend mornings, and spending time with her family. She rejoined the Florence Project in July 2013.
Néstor Allende-Asparó, Esq.
Managing Attorney, Phoenix
Néstor Allende-Asparó was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He earned his J.D. from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Law. He obtained an LL.M. in International and Comparative Law and an M.A. in International Relations from Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio,Texas. Throughout his studies, Néstor volunteered at the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the St.Mary’s University Center for Legal and Social Justice and at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), screening unaccompanied immigrant children at Lackland Air Force Base. During the Spring semester of 2015, Néstor worked as an intern at the United States Embassy in the Dominican Republic, where he researched human rights issues pertaining to Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic. Before joining FIRRP in September 2016, Néstor was a Staff Attorney with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project providing legal services to Central American women and children asylum-seekers detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Néstor recently moved to Phoenix with his loving wife and feisty chiweeni, Frijol.
Rocío Castañeda, Esq.
Kino Border Initiative Legal Fellow, Tucson
Rocío Castañeda grew up in Nogales, Mexico & Nogales, Arizona and lived there until she moved to Chicago where she obtained her degree in anthropology and J.D. from Loyola University Chicago. Prior to law school, she received full accreditation to represent immigrants in immigration matters in her positions with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago and the South Texas Pro Bono Representation Project (ProBAR) in Harlingen, Texas. She has experience working with unaccompanied minors in South Texas and Chicago. Throughout law school, she clerked with a private immigration law firm specializing in removal defense and appeals. She enjoys reading science fiction, hanging out with her dogs Zorro and Tornado, and carnes asadas. Rocío has been with the Florence Project since March 2014.
Gabriela Corrales, Esq.
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 for 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.
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.
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.
Equal Justice Works 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 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.
Casey Frank, Esq.
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 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.
Pamela Florian, Esq.
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 of 2016.
Roxana Ortez Avila, Esq.
Roxana Ortez Avila was born in Sabanagrande, Honduras and moved to the United States at age six. 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 in 2016, where she immersed herself in the field of immigration law and juvenile rights. She enjoys plants, sunsets, eating good food and spending time with her friends. Roxana joined the Florence Project in September 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.
Natima Neily grew up in California, born in the latter half of the decade that introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act by two parents with disabilities – one, a first generation immigrant from Canada; the other a recent immigrant from México. Natima grew up witnessing diverse communities come together and advocate for themselves to make change happen.
This influenced her to pursue a B.A. in Justice Studies and a B.S. in Public Policy and Public Service, with a concentration in Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and a minor in Spanish at Arizona State University. While at ASU, Natima worked at initiatives such as Changemaker Central, and was the Executive Director of Collegetown@ASU, which focused on empowering students to become leaders, raise awareness of social issues and fosters an appreciation for cultural diversity. She has always been passionate about addressing institutional inequalities and empowering others; this passion drew her to FIRRP after graduation from ASU, and she has been working here since July of 2016.
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 that 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.
climate. She studied abroad in the Dominican Republic and Central
America where she studied participatory education and social justice
issues. She returned to Massachusetts and received her MA in Community
Development and Planning from Clark University. Meanwhile she worked
for a Latino community organization as part of an In-Home Therapy team
for children with trauma. She then moved to Honduras to work as a
Program Administrator for an education nonprofit for two years. She
worked with teachers and students in low-income, community-run bilingual
schools. She joined the Florence Project in September of 2016. In her free
time Natalia enjoys hiking, gardening, exploring, and eating chocolate.
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 City and brought to the United States when she was 2 years old. While undocumented, she received a full-ride scholarship to attend Grand Canyon University where she studied for a Bachelors degree in Theology with a minor in Piano. While in college, she was part of the Latino Student Union on campus and as a Dreamer worked to empower women and immigrant youth to fight for their dreams. She also volunteered at local resource center teaching English as a Second Language. She was granted deferred status under DACA in 2012 and started working with Unaccompanied Minors in Phoenix. In her spare time, she is a Spanish worship leader at FSBCA where she also volunteers in the nursery on Sundays, which helps quell her own baby-fever. Yesenia joined the Florence Project in October 2014. She has been published in poetry books and plays piano, guitar, clarinet, and trombone.
Legal Assistant, Phoenix
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.
Legal Assistant, Phoenix
Diana Roque was born and raised in Port Chester, New York. She attended St. Bonaventure University and earned her B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in Gerontology. While in college, she was President of the Latin American Student Organization and advocated for cultural competence on campus. She also wrote her senior thesis on immigration patterns of unaccompanied minors from Central American and immigration policies. Diana is a first generation American and her family’s immigrant background and studies motivated her to pursue a career in immigration. She interned with USCIS in the EB-5 program in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2014. She joined the Florence Project in November 2015.
Senior Legal Assistant
Born in California, and after nine years of living in the state of Mexico, Jennifer moved back to the U.S. 12 years ago and now calls Arizona home. Jenny, as she is known, worked with unaccompanied immigrant children for three years before joining the Florence Project in July of 2014. In her spare time, Jenny volunteers caring for and mentoring children at her church and enjoys being a Sunday school teacher. Jenny’s favorite things are coffee, music, good movies, and documentaries.
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 and a Master’s degree focused on Bi-National Agricultural Commerce 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.
Pro Bono Program
Larry Sandigo, Esq.
Pro Bono Manager
Larry grew up in Arizona. After earning his B.A. in History from Baylor University, he received his J.D. from Boston College Law School. He endured several cold winters before moving back to Arizona. Since law school, he has devoted himself exclusively to the practice of immigration and nationality law. He has represented clients in all areas of immigration law, including consular processing, adjustment of status, waivers, and removal defense. He has been with the Florence Project since August 2015. Larry enjoys trying new restaurants and foods, particularly carb-heavy dishes.
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.
Lillian R. Aponte
Pro Bono Mentor
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.
Pro Bono Legal Assistant
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 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.
Social Services Program
Kaitlin Porter, LMSW
Social Services Coordinator
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, MSW
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 had always involved Spanish, immigration, and youth including a study abroad in Quito, Ecuador, 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.
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.