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Karla Alas

ONA Long Island Immigrant Community Navigator

Karla was born in El Salvador and is a first generation immigrant. She is an International Baccalaureate alumni and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in international studies from SUNY Oneonta, where she graduated with department honors and dedicated much of her research to human rights affairs. In the past she has volunteered at the Consulate General of El Salvador where she worked first-hand with the Salvadoran diaspora, in addition she has also interned at the United Nations and has worked as a Dialogue Leader at the office of equity and inclusion at SUNY Oneonta.

In her position at CARECEN, Karla assists the Long Island immigrant community in navigating resources, services and programs available to them throughout the region, with a focus on low-income immigrants who are particularly vulnerable to socioeconomic disadvantages.

Beatríz Aléman Cisneros


Beatríz came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1983. She began her career with CARECEN as a volunteer in 1996 because she wanted to give back to her community. Beatríz has continued to serve the immigrant community ever since. She completes naturalization applications, Legal Permanent Resident Card renewals, TPS renewals, and DACA renewals in our Brentwood office. In her free time, Beatríz likes to go shopping and spend time with her children, grandchildren, and puppy, Milo.

Emerson Argueta, Esq.

Supervising Attorney

Emerson was born in El Salvador, emigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1990s, and settled on Long Island. Emerson holds a B.A. from Columbia University, and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. Emerson’s experience working in immigration started in his first year of law school when he volunteered with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. He continued advocating for immigrants through four service trips to the family detention center in Dilley, Texas, and internships with Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and Human Rights First. Emerson worked with Immigrant Justice Corps’ Adults with Children project where he represented underserved vulnerable women and children facing removal to Central American countries where they fear gang and domestic violence. Emerson continues to serve the Long Island immigrant community as a supervising attorney for CARECEN’s removal defense team.

Gabriela Calahorrano, Esq.

ONA Suffolk Legal Counsel

Gabriela is the ONA Legal Counsel for Suffolk County. In this role, she provides a variety of legal services via direct representation, clinics, and consultations. Gabriela also addresses the need for quality legal information by leading a number of legal information sessions and workshops throughout the year.

Gabriela is a graduate of Hofstra University School of Law, and she also completed her M.A. in Sociology at St. John’s University. She chose law school so that she could take a more hands-on approach to helping others in her community. Gabriela also found that having a sociological background affords her a wider perspective on issues of immigration as she practices law in that field.

Jenny Chévez Kessinger

DOJ Accredited Representative

Born in Nicaragua, from a very early age Jenny was engaged in her community and exploring her heritage through folkloric dance. As a young adult Jenny worked as a host and tour guide for international relief workers and students of service learning projects for over seven years, which enabled her to attend college at the Universidad Nacional de Nicaragua at León. Jenny immigrated to the United States in 2010, and was incredibly fortunate to have been warmly supported and encouraged by many in her community. She strives to return this warmth to new immigrants each day. Jenny has been an active member of the LGBT immigrant community, including serving as a Coordinator of the LGBT Immigrant Group, a collaborative project between CARECEN and Hofstra University. In her free time, Jenny enjoys knitting, painting, gardening, attending concerts, visiting museums, and she still loves to dance.

Melanie Creps

Community Programs Director

Being raised overseas in Papua New Guinea and adopting two immigrant sons has given Melanie a kinship with the immigrant community. After returning to the United States as an adolescent, she lived in various places in all corners of the United States before moving to Long Island. She has also travelled and volunteered extensively internationally.

Melanie comes to CARECEN with a background working in the nonprofit sector in start-up and program management roles. She has worked with vulnerable and marginalized communities throughout her career. Melanie studied English, theology, and social sciences at Biola University in California and Western Seminary in Oregon.

Melanie finds the greatest joy in her work when supporting immigrants as they assimilate into American life. She serves as the Community Programs Manager for CARECEN.

Anthony Cruz

Low Bono Supervisor

Anthony is a native-New Yorker and joins CARECEN as its Low Bono Supervisor from The Door where he served as a Paralegal in the Unaccompanied Minors Program. Anthony brings more than eight years of advocating for the rights of immigrants. Over the last four years, Anthony represented detained unaccompanied minors in their pursuit of asylum and SIJS. Because he is the child of immigrants, he understands the difficulties of the immigrant experience and the complexities of navigating the legal system. Anthony is interested in the specific issues affecting unaccompanied children and victims of gender-based violence.

Anthony received his M.A. in human rights from CUNY John Jay and his B.A. in 20th Century Latin American Literature from SUNY Albany. Anthony is a wanderlust, foodie, and avid reader. He has studied and lived in Buenos Aires and discovered his passion for immigrants rights while living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Elise de Castillo, Esq.

Executive Director

Elise's journey to CARECEN began through her work with marginalized communities in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, India, and Mexico. These experiences led her to the Hofstra University School of Law where she graduated as the Dwight L. Greene Scholar, a full tuition scholarship for minority rights advocacy. Her representation of Central American asylum seekers as the Post-Graduate Fellow at the Hofstra Asylum Clinic inspired her to continue serving this community at CARECEN. She joined CARECEN as a staff attorney in 2012, where she subsequently served as Legal Director before becoming Executive Director in 2020.

In addition to her work at CARECEN, Elise also served as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the results of her interviews with more than 200 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America were published in the UNHCR's report Children on the Run. Elise is a recipient of the national Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing and was named a Top 40 Latino Under 40 by the New York Hispanic Coalition.

Márton Diószegi

Community Educator

Marton is CARECEN's Community Educator. Born in Hungary, he came to Long Island at the age of three and has been going back and forth ever since. Marton previously worked for non-profit organizations on Long Island (HWCLI, BEF, NYIC), as well as a human rights observer in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia. Marton worked as a contractor with CARECEN during the GOTV campaign in the 2020 elections and later as an AmeriCorps VISTA working on communications and volunteer management in 2021-2022. In his current role he organizes workshops and classes for the community.

In his free time Marton enjoys traveling, learning languages and meeting new people. He has lived in Mexico, Senegal and Turkey and has visited 48 U.S. states. He is fluent in Spanish and Hungarian, conversational in French and hopes to learn Brazilian Portuguese next. He holds an MA degree in International Relations majoring in Diplomacy with a Peace and Conflict Studies minor from Corvinus University of Budapest.

Megan Elman, Esq.

Supervising Attorney

Before law school, Megan worked with noncitizen survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Raleigh, North Carolina on humanitarian immigration petitions. This work led her to law school, where, through internships with the Bronx Defenders and Public Defender Service of D.C., she became interested in removal defense and post-final order relief, particularly where criminal convictions are/were the grounds for removal. She believes that no noncitizen, regardless of criminal history, deserves to be deported.

Mohammad Nasir Erkin

Finance Director

Mohammad Nasir Erkin obtained his Bachelor's degree in Economics at the Kabul University of Kabul Afghanistan and completed an MBA, in Finance Management and Operations Management at ISBM (Final Exam Pending). He comes to CARECEN with a distinguished career in finance, accounting, and project management in the spheres of government, USAID, banking, microfinance, INGOs, and private-sector organizations, totaling over 19 years of experience. His broad-based capabilities include financial management, accounting management, Afghan taxation, cost analysis, project management, recruitment, and capacity building.

Mohammad Nasir Erkin joined CARECEN as the organization's first Finance Director, jumping in to implement financial management strategies in partnership with executive leadership to ensure CARECEN's long-term sustainability, the continued growth of programs and services, and expanding its impact on the communities CARECEN serves.

Rosa Gómez

Administrative Assistant

Rosa Gómez was born and raised in El Salvador. She immigrated to the United States in 2016 with her mom and siblings in pursuit of better opportunities. She graduated from Hempstead High School in 2018 and is currently attending Hunter College, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Religion. Her goal is to become a Social Worker to help those in need. In 2021, Rosa volunteered with CARECEN to give back to the community.

Jessica Greenberg, Esq.

Legal Director

Jessica joins CARECEN as its Managing Attorney from Catholic Charities Community Services where she served as the Director of Bronx Immigration Services. She brings with her more than ten years of nonprofit immigration advocacy -- direct legal services, community outreach, mentorship and supervision, and program building.

Prior to law school, Jessica spent a year interning with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Jerusalem, Israel, working primarily with West African asylum-seekers. This sparked her desire to meaningfully "fight the good fight" for individuals seeking protection and/or the right to live freely in the United States.

Mayra Interiano


Mayra was born and raised in El Salvador. She immigrated to the United States to pursue better opportunities. She obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Legal Science from St. John's University. She has since tried to give back to her community by assisting immigrants applying for various forms of relief. She first joined CARECEN has a paralegal and helped to process different immigration applications. Working at CARECEN is one of her biggest pleasures because she enjoys working in the legal field but understand the importance of addressing the community's other needs beyond legal assistance.

Christin Jackson

Communications & Volunteer Management VISTA

Chris obtained her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is also an alumni of CAPA: The Global Education Network where she was professionally trained in intercultural communication.

She is an old soul. In her free time, Chris enjoys playing guitar with friends and making art to give away to people she cares about. She is fluent in Portuguese. Discovering Brazilian music at the age of twelve is what led her to where she is today.

As an empath, Chris strives to provide a quality of life difference to underrepresented communities, specifically in Central and South America. Since the start of the pandemic, she spent time in Peru and lived briefly in Brazil where she feels most at home.

CARECEN is Chris’s third organization, which she is so incredibly proud to be a part of.

Karen Andrea Krokowski


Karen Andrea Diaz (Krokowski) is a graduate of the School of Law at the Universidad de las Americas in Ecuador and completed a Master's Degree in Justice and Protection of Rights with a concentration in Legal Theory and Philosophy of Law in Bogotá at the Universidad Externado de Colombia. She studied Introduction and Techniques of Criminological Profile at the Instituto de Altos Estudios Universitarios en Abierto in Spain. In 2020, she obtained a Diploma in Teaching Techniques at Universidad de las Americas in Ecuador. She has more than nine years of experience as an attorney in Ecuador and four years teaching as a part-time college professor. She has complimentary professional experience as a Management Coordinator at the Free Legal Assistance Center of UDLA, and Academic Coordinator of Universidad de las Americas Law School from August 2018 to February 2020. Currently she is developing her legal career as a paralegal in the Berkeley College paralegal program and at Kingsborough Community College, where she is studying as an advanced paralegal and Notary Public in New York. Defense of women's rights and vulnerable groups has always been her guiding spirit and motivation in life. Her profession has always been focused on service.

Gianela Liendo Fuentes

Social Worker

Born in Peru and raised on Long Island, Gianela (She/Her/Hers) is proud to be a first generation immigrant. She is passionate about advocating for meaningful immigration reform/rights and was a DACA recipient during her educational career.

Gianela volunteered as a crisis counselor for RESPONSE crisis center and was an undergraduate psychology research assistant. While in graduate school, Gianela completed a web-based learning course for trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and focused on the intersection of international forced migration, and social work practice, through instruction provided by Fordham GSS and Her Migrant Hub. Before her current role as social worker at CARECEN, she completed her field placement as social work intern here in 2022.

Gianela received her B.A. degree in Psychology and Sociology from SUNY Stony Brook University and her Master's Degree in Social Work at Fordham's Graduate School of Social Service.

Outside of her professional endeavors, Gianela loves her fur babies, nature, and traveling.

Claudia Lobos

Office Coordinator

Before coming to the United States a few years ago, Claudia received a Bachelor’s in Law from La Universidad de Oriente in San Miguel, El Salvador. She previously held a position at CARECEN in 2015 and has since worked very closely with the Salvadoran community providing assistance with legal processes in their home country. She is currently studying at Suffolk Community College and hopes to become a certified Paralegal. She has a passion for helping her community.

Austin McCabe

ESOL Coordinator

Growing up in North Carolina, Austin has always been eager to explore the world and get to know those who have had different experiences than his own. His passion for learning/teaching languages and travel started at an early age, and drove him to pursue a B.A. in Spanish at UNC Wilmington. After graduation, Austin relocated to New York to complete pre-service training as an ESOL Fellow with the NYC Teaching Fellows.

He returned home to North Carolina, where he began his career as a Middle School Spanish teacher. He has developed classes for Spanish and Portuguese speaking students that focus on literacy in their first language and empowering students to find pride in their heritage. He comes to CARECEN with knowledge of second-language acquisition and experience in education advocacy for non-English speaking students. Austin enjoys traveling, reading, and learning about others. He currently speaks Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, and has a list of other languages that he would like to learn.

Julia Miller

Immigrant Justice Corps - Justice Fellow

Julia Miller joined the removal defense team at CARECEN, NY in September 2022 as an IJC Justice Fellow from the Class of 2022. Julia graduated from New York Law School in May of 2022 and is currently pending admission to the New York State Bar. Prior to beginning her fellowship, Julia worked with the Legal Aid Society first as a NYS Pro Bono Scholar with their immigrant Youth Project, and then as a law graduate.

She previously worked with unaccompanied children as an 1L legal intern with Safe Passage Project and during her 2L year with the NYLS Immigration Law and Litigation Clinic. Julia joined Catholic Charities’ Immigration Special Projects Unit during her 2L summer. Before starting at the Legal Aid Society, Julia was a research assistant to Distinguished Professor of Human Rights and Immigration Law, Lenni Benson.

Julia is very excited to be a part of the removal defense team and working alongside the talented and dedicated advocates at CARECEN-NY.

Vivian Morales, LMSW

Lead Social Worker

Vivian was born in Colombia, and raised in Spain where she obtained her Bachelor's degree in Social Work, and a Master's Degree in Project Management. Vivian was awarded by the University of Zaragoza, in Spain, to go to Cuba to complete an internship, and to go to Italy to participate in an intensive program to learn about social services in Europe in a multicultural society. Vivian's passion to learn more about different cultures guided her to specialize in International Cooperation, and worked in Peru for 10 months helping people at risk of social exclusion.

Vivian emigrated to the United States in 2012, and obtained her Master's Degree in Social Work at Adelphi University, and is registered to practice in New York State as a License Master Social Worker.

Ferida Osman

Law Clerk

Growing up in Suffolk County as the daughter of Afghan refugees, Ferida bore witness to the injustices and inequalities of immigration law against minority communities. Ferida is pursuing her passion for immigration law by attending the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Ferida is also one of Hofstra's first Long Island Immigration Advocacy Fellows and is excited to help bring social justice to minority communities in Long Island. Ferida is a law clerk working in CARECEN's Afghan Legal Assistance Program.

Leslie Perez

Job Coach

Leslie is a native Long Islander of Puerto Rican descent. Much of her experience has been in
the non-profit sector, specifically in the context of the church, but also as an active and involved
member of the Brentwood community for the 10 years that she lived there, connecting with
neighbors and advocating for safety and justice. As for her involvement with the church, she
has filled many roles and has done much in the way of leadership development, pioneering new
projects and programs, strategizing, event planning, community outreach, curriculum
development, training, public speaking, empowering and caring for those in need for over 20
Her passion is to love God and to love people. And she is motivated by the maximum growth
and development of others.
She is honored to be a part of the great team here at CARECEN-NY, that contributes so much
to the welfare of immigrants, and to making Long Island a more just and welcoming place.
Leslie currently resides in Holbrook, NY with her husband, three teenage children and three
crazy dogs!

Fernando Ruiz

Director of Operations

Fernando was born in Los Angeles, California but soon after moved to Guadalajara, Mexico where he spent the formative parts of his life.

After completing his BA in History at the University of Guadalajara, he decided to pursue his academic, professional, and cultural goals in New York City. He graduated from the City College of New York with a MA in History and later from Hunter College with a MS in Urban Policy and Leadership. He had the honor to serve the city of New York in an administrative role at the NYC Department of Buildings. This pursuit was driven by Fernando’s awareness of the benefit and need to be in a governmental role to learn firsthand about the intricacies and challenges the city faces.

Fernando is familiar with the struggles of immigrants and their families, from personal experience but also from an academic perspective, and holds the belief that through challenges opportunities arise. However, he desires and will help create an environment where individuals are treated with dignity and services are made available to allow newcomers to overcome challenges.

Andrea Sacasa

Immigrant Justice Corps - Justice Fellow

Andrea was born in Leon, Nicaragua and raised in Miami, FL. Andrea grew up around a rich culture in Miami and always knew she wanted to become involved in immigrant's rights work. For her undergraduate studies, Andrea moved to Tampa, FL where she received a Double Bachelors at the University of South Florida in Political Science and French. Andrea later moved to NY to attend Hofstra Law where she interned with Safe Passage Project and Urban Justice Center's - Domestic Violence Project. Andrea also participated in Hofstra Law's Deportation Defense Clinic where she was first exposed to both detained and non-detained clients.

Mónica Sánchez, Esq.

Staff Attorney

Monica was a DREAMer and remains a dreamer. After stints in publishing and a startup she landed at Brooklyn Law, where in taurus fashion she tried to "keep an open mind." Working on the Immigrant Visa Assistance Project, interpreting and providing credible fear information to detainees, assisting SIJS applicants at Safe Passage Project—as well as an Asylum applicant at the Safe Harbor Clinic—confirmed what her village had assumed. She is thrilled to be a member of the Removal Defense Team at CARECEN, and to finally get to work.

Andrés Santamaría Cortes, Esq.

ONA Nassau Legal Counsel

As a first-generation immigrant from Colombia, Andrés has been personally affected by immigration issues, which is why he chose to pursue a law degree specifically to advocate for immigrant rights. While obtaining his Bachelor's degree at St. John's University, he interned at the The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York's pro se office and in the Honorable Judge Koeltl's chambers, researching federal criminal and civil cases and attending district court hearings. These experiences lead him to Boston College Law School, where participated in a Pro Bono Spring Break Trip to the National Immigrant Justice Center to assist asylum seekers fill out applications. Andrés enrolled in the Immigration Clinic for two semesters to represent clients in removal proceedings and habeas corpus hearings, and to work as a research assistant for the clinic's Director. As an IJC Fellow Andrés represented Central American families who are seeking asylum in removal proceedings in the New York City Immigration Court. As an ONA Legal Counsel, Andrés represents clients in a variety of immigration issues.

Courtney Wiggins

ESOL Teacher

Courtney is a passionate ESL teacher with extensive experience working with diverse English-learning communities across New York. Prior to coming to CARECEN, Courtney provided holistic and individualized English and digital learning opportunities to students in nonprofit and private settings. As an educator she has built relationships with the local community, partner organizations, and families, who hail from a wide range of cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. Some of Courtney’s passions include reading, watching movies, traveling, and exploring new foods to eat. When she gets a chance to rest, she is most likely tending to her lovely plant collection. Her cat, Butters, is her loving companion who often joins her during English classes.


Our Team

Who We Are

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