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Karina Aguilar

Administrative Assistant

Karina joins CARECEN as an administrative assistant with previous experience in private immigration law firms. She is a life-long New Yorker and a proud member of the Salvadoran diaspora. Karina aims to give back to her community by assisting those in need of immigration services. As a first generation college student, Karina received a Bachelors in Political Science from Brooklyn College and is currently pursuing a Masters in Labor Studies at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. Her professional goals include expanding labor rights for migrant workers in our increasingly globalized world. Karina's personal goals include improving her crochet and cooking skills, learning to swim, and traveling the world.

Beatríz Aléman Cisneros

Paralegal

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.

Antonella Banegas

IJC Justice Fellow

Antonella graduated from American University Washington College of Law with her J.D. in May of 2023. Antonella will be joining the Unaccompanied Children Program team at CARECEN as an IJC fellow. She previously worked with unaccompanied children during her 2L summer at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) in Washington, D.C. During her 1L summer she worked at Mil Mujeres in Washington D.C., where she helped victims of domestic violence with their U visa applications. In her final year of law school, she was a student attorney in the Immigrant Justice Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law.

Antonella is devoted to providing legal representation to immigrants and advocating for their rights, and she is very excited to join the CARECEN team.

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 Director 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.

Carl Denaud

Volunteer Coordinator for Nassau County

Carl Denaud is a first generation Haitian immigrant. He migrated to the U.S. in 2019 after graduating high school to pursue a bachelor's degree in global business management at Farmingdale State College. Inspired by his own experience as an immigrant and seeing the challenges that others face as a result of their background, race, and social status, he chose to commit himself to issues pertaining to social justice and equality. Carl is the president of the International Student Association at Farmingdale where he works with others to create a safe space where everyone can embrace their self-identity while fostering cross cultural friendships.

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 other non-profit organizations on Long Island, 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 M.A. in International Relations, majoring in Diplomacy with a Peace and Conflict Studies minor, from Corvinus University of Budapest.

Maria Dominguez

Community Programs Associate

Maria's passion led her to graduate from CUNY York College with a bachelors in history. She was born in Jarabacoa, a small town in the Dominican Republic, which she tries to visit at least once a year. While she spent some of her childhood in the DR, her family migrated to New York when she was very young. Maria saw the struggle that some of her family members faced when they moved to the United States. Without any connections, it took a long time for her and her family to feel at home. Because of this, Maria says: "I'm extremely thrilled to join CARECEN, an organization that helps people with families like mine. As a Community Program Associate, I will do my job proudly. I look forward to working with the rest of my colleagues and having a career here!"

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. 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 20 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.

Julianna Goyzueta

Paralegal

Julianna’s passion for advocacy work was ignited during her involvement with the YA-YA Network, a youth activist organization. She graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology. As a college student, she held leadership positions within the Latin American Student Organization and the JFEW SUNY Global Affairs Program. Before joining CARECEN, she interned at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Safe Passage Project.

Born and raised on Long Island, Julianna is a second-generation immigrant of the Colombian and Peruvian diaspora. She has an interest and appreciation for anything related to art, nature, spirituality, and decolonization. In her free time she enjoys exploring nature trails, making bracelets, and expressing her creativity as an (amateur) musician.

Jessica Greenberg, Esq.

Legal Director

Jessica joins CARECEN as its Legal Director 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.

Cindy Gutiérrez

Hempstead Office Coordinator

Coming from a lineage of Central American immigrants, Cindy directly experienced the difficulties they face. She holds a deep belief in the strength of empathy and understanding, especially when it comes to supporting and advocating for refugees. Outside of work, Cindy is a passionate traveler, always seeking new adventures and experiences. Exploring different cultures and meeting diverse people has enriched her perspective and fuels her drive to make a positive impact on the world. She also likes to indulge in creative pursuits like painting and jewelry making. These hobbies not only bring her joy but also allow her to express herself artistically, contributing to a well-rounded and fulfilling life. Cindy is committed to the mission of making the world a better place, one empathetic interaction and creative endeavor at a time.

Mayra Interiano

Paralegal

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 given back to her community by assisting immigrants applying for various forms of relief. Working at CARECEN is one of her biggest pleasures because she enjoys working in the legal field and understands the importance of addressing the community's legal and non-legal needs.

Chris Jackson

Development and Communications Coordinator

Chris obtained her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an experienced fundraising volunteer, AmeriCorps VISTA with the NYIC, and alumni of CEA CAPA Education Abroad where she was professionally trained in intercultural communication.

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.

Being a part of the CARECEN family means the world to her.

Pablo Jiménez, Esq.

Supervising Attorney

Born in Mexico City, and raised in New Jersey, Pablo has always been passionate about immigrants rights and public service. Prior to Law School, Pablo completed a year of service with AmeriCorp helping at-risk students stay in high school. Pablo graduated cum laude from Albany Law school and served as Vice President to the Latin American Law Students Association. Pablo also had the opportunity to participate as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild during the many protests that took place in 2020-2021. Throughout Law School, Pablo interned at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York assisting clients with issues relating to housing and social security benefits. Pablo began his legal career here at CARECEN as a fellow with the Immigrant Justice Corps. After one year of service, Pablo transitioned to the role of ONA Legal Counsel to Suffolk and Nassau counties. After a short period in private practice, Pablo returned to CARECEN as Supervising Attorney to the NYLR team where he will continue to provide legal services to Long Island residents. In his free time, Pablo enjoys hiking, reading, watching his favorite soccer teams, and doing CrossFit.

Karen Andrea Krokowski

Paralegal

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, LMSW

Social Worker

Born in Peru and raised on Long Island, Gianela is proud to be an immigrant. She is passionate about advocating for meaningful immigration reform 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, Claudia received a Bachelor’s in Law from La Universidad de Oriente in San Miguel, El Salvador. Since arriving to Long Island, she has worked very closely with the Salvadoran community, providing assistance with legal processes in their home country. Claudia recently graduated from Suffolk Community College as a certified Paralegal, and is now pursuing a Master's degree in Law at Hofstra University. She has a passion for helping her community.

Kriscia López Martínez

Legal Programs Associate

An immigrant from El Salvador who has personally experienced the complex, challenging immigration system, Kriscia understands first hand the fear and uncertainty that CARECEN's clients feel. Having benefited from the help of others when she arrived in the United States, Kriscia believes that it is her duty to give back by helping her community. She is excited to work at CARECEN where she can live this duty every day.

Andrea Madrid, Esq.

Supervising Attorney

For the past sixteen years, Andrea’s passion and work has been to pursue justice and protection for immigrant communities and their families. She joins CARECEN as the Supervising Attorney for the Youth Immigration Program, representing immigrant youth in Long Island.

As a first-generation Ecuadorian immigrant, Andrea's commitment began in organizing grassroots efforts to lobby for the DREAM ACT after leaving a career in accounting. She attended Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University to advocate for immigrant families in the courtroom. During her time at Catholic Charities Community Services, she specialized on detained and released unaccompanied minors. She expanded her advocacy at Queens Legal Services, serving low-income survivors of violence in affirmative and defensive applications as a Senior Staff Attorney and supervised legal interns for the Immigration Advocacy Project while actively participating in the worker’s union and in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Beyond her legal work, she is an active alumnus and founding member of MetroLALSA, Inc., a non-profit organization whose aim is to unite and support Latino/a/e law students in the NY/NJ Metro area, and currently serves in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee as a Pace Law Alumni Board Member.

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.

Maria McCourt

Volunteer Coordinator for Suffolk County

Maria was born in Colombia and went to college there for Communications and Journalism at Universidad de La Sabana. She came to the United States almost 8 years ago to improve her English but I never thought she would stay and build a family here. During her time in college Maria always felt the passion for helping others and empowering the community, however she started working as a tv producer. Even though she liked this role, it wasn’t what she wanted to do.

After working with children with special needs for almost 3 years, Maria saw the opportunity to work in the health department as a community health advocate. She really enjoyed advocating and empowering the community, especially immigrant families with children that have just arrived in the country and needed the assistance the most.

Maria loves to spend time with her family here on Long Island and in Colombia. "I definitely miss my country" she says, "but I feel proud of helping immigrants like me improve their quality of life."

In her free time, Maria loves traveling and spending time with her baby boy.

Alejandro Mendoza

Social Work Associate

Alejandro was born in Bolivia and moved to the United States at a young age. Having spent part of college as an undocumented immigrant, he is keenly aware of the fears some young latinos may have about taking important milestones in the United States.

As an economics major in college, Alejandro took electives to learn more about immigration, the global dynamics that shape it, and the personal stories that come as a result. Initially his career path veered away from his goal of exploring these topics, but later he volunteered at the social services desk at Meatloaf Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Manhattan. There, he employed his administrative skills to help in any way he could. Now he is excited to be able to provide support to the Social Services team at CARECEN.

Julia Miller, Esq.

ONA Legal Counsel

Julia Miller joined the removal defense team at CARECEN in 2022 as an IJC Justice Fellow before becoming part of the ONA Legal Counsel program in 2023. Julia graduated from New York Law School in May of 2022. 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 team and to work alongside the talented and dedicated advocates at CARECEN.

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. The University of Zaragoza, Vivian's alma mater, granted her the opportunity to intern in Cuba and to participate in an intensive program about social services in multicultural European societies in Italy. Vivian's passion for learning about different cultures guided her to specialize in International Cooperation, and she 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. She is registered to practice in New York State as a Licensed Master Social Worker.

Raquel Morote

ONA Legal Counsel

Raquel was born and raised in Corona, Queens, surrounded by a rich immigrant community which inspired her to delve into the world of public service. Raquel received her B.A. from Queens College in Political Science and went on to receive her Juris Doctor from CUNY School of Law. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, Raquel worked in various non profit organizations dedicated to fighting for the rights of immigrant communities and high risk populations, such as Human Rights First, Safe Horizon, Riis Settlement and the Urban Justice Center. She was a part of CUNY Law’s Immigrant and Non Citizen Rights Clinic for a year, where she worked on different types of cases involving humanitarian relief. Raquel hopes to continue working to better serve and empower the immigrant communities on Long Island as part of the ONA Legal Counsel team for Nassau County.

Laura Mustakos

ESOL Teacher

With a passion for helping people, Laura has worked with numerous non-profit organizations in their program and fundraising departments to increase education access, legal services, human rights, and access to the arts.

She holds a Bachelor's degree in Art History, a Master's degree in Business Administration and a second Master's in Teaching English as a New Language. She joins CARECEN as a teacher in our ESOL program, a role to which she brings nearly 10 years experience, both in the U.S. and abroad. Laura enjoys traveling, reading, practicing/improving her Spanish, rescuing cats, meditation, and learning about other cultures.

Bridget Navas

Paralegal

Bridget is the daughter of two Salvadoran immigrants. She is an honors graduate, with a B.A. in Law and Society and a minor in English from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her consistent effort in school earned her a place on the Dean’s List. In middle and high school she was a student leader for community service programs. During college, as part of her honors program, Bridget helped organize and create events that promoted working towards the common good. In her senior year, she worked on three projects that promoted understanding toward immigrants and their children. Being from Long Island, Bridget wanted to research the opportunities available to immigrants based on geographical location. Part of her research analyzed the academic opportunity gaps of first and second generation immigrants specifically on Long Island. She collaborated with peers and professors to create a presentation designed to educate professors at John Jay College on the bilingual mind and both its advantages and disadvantages in academic and social settings. Bridget's life and educational experiences gave her a desire to help the Long Island immigrant community and are what fueled her passion of one day becoming an immigration lawyer.

Anna Nuñez

Legal Coordinator

Anna is CARECEN’s Legal Coordinator for the Legal Counsel and the New York Legal Response programs. Born and raised on Long Island, she graduated from Baldwin Senior High School in 2019 and afterwards attended New York University. She graduated as an honors scholar from NYU with a B.A. in Public Policy and History. During her time at NYU, she served as President and Vice President of Viva Peru and also interned with New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky. Anna is beyond excited to be a part of an amazing team and help make a difference in her community.

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.

Andrea Parejo, Esq.

ONA Legal Counsel

Andrea is part of the ONA Legal Counsel team for Suffolk County. She was born in Venezuela and raised primarily in the United States. Andrea received her B.A. from CUNY Hunter College in International Relations and Human Rights. Andrea went on to receive her Juris Doctor from CUNY School of Law where she specialized in Immigration Law. Andrea has dedicated her education and career to public service, as part of the Public Service Scholars Program at Hunter College, and later as an Excelsior Fellow with New York State Division of Human Rights. Andrea is passionate about providing access to legal services that can lead to stability and a better life for all immigrants facing the immigration system.

Bryan Pérez

Paralegal

A native of Long Island and proud son of Salvadoran immigrants, Bryan has a strong passion for helping the immigrant community on Long Island. He graduated with honors from John F. Kennedy High School in his hometown of Bellmore. Afterwards, he attended Hofstra University where he received his B.A in Political Science and Public Policy with a minor in Presidential Studies. At Hofstra, Bryan served as President of Hofstra’s Organization of Latin Americans and as a Senator for Student Government. He had the honor of attending the Washington Center Seminar in our nation’s capital where he met with organizations, journalists, lobbyists, and government officials which included El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United States. Bryan also served as a Student Guide for Hofstra’s Barack Obama Presidential Conference where he met with journalists, scholars, and members of President Obama’s administration. During his senior year of college, he joined CARECEN as a volunteer in assisting with ESOL classes and co-teaches our citizenship class. Seeing firsthand the struggles his own parents faced motivated Bryan to pursue a career in Immigration Law.

Some of Bryan’s hobbies include collecting comic books and political memorabilia, reading, hanging out with friends and family, and jogging. Bryan is proud and honored to work alongside the team at CARECEN as a Paralegal.

Leslie Pérez

Job Coach

Leslie is a native Long Islander of Puerto Rican descent. Much of her experience has been in the non-profit sector, where she has been involved in leadership development, pioneering new programs, strategizing, event planning, community outreach, curriculum development, training, public speaking, empowering and caring for those in need for over 20 years. She was also an active member of the Brentwood community for the 10 years that she lived there, connecting with neighbors and advocating for safety and justice.

She is honored to be a part of the great team at CARECEN 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 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 his formative years.

After completing his B.A. 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

ONA Legal Counsel

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 New York 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.

Katie Sandoval

Paralegal

Born and raised on Long Island, Katie is the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador. She joins CARECEN as a paralegal in the legal team.

She is a first generation graduate from Molloy University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History with honors. In the past, she has volunteered in El Salvador where she helps run two educational camps for children. She has also worked with cases through her internship with United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Additionally, Katie has volunteered as a Latina mentor where she has helped to prepare Latina students to transition from high school to university life with confidence and also work to decrease dropout rates among the community. Last, during her time as an undergraduate student, she passionately dedicated herself to researching Central American immigration dating back to 1965 until present time.

As a paralegal, Katie gives back to her community by assisting them in legal representation and helping them navigate the often complicated and scary immigration process.

Richard Santamaria

Case Manager

Richard Santamaria was born and raised on Long Island, New York and was the first in his family to be born in the United States. With his parents coming from El Salvador, Richard got to experience the joys and struggles of being part of a family trying to figure out its place in this country. He now joins our team as a case manager with our Community Programs team, seeking to provide public service and advocacy for immigrants like his family.

Richard graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a History Minor from Northeastern University, where he graduated magna cum laude. He previously worked in the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and later worked closely with elderly populations in the Greater Boston area and on Long Island through LBFE Boston and Sunrise Senior Living. He is now prepared and excited to give back to the immigrant community and help make Long Island a better place for all.

Andrés Santamaría Cortes, Esq.

ONA Legal Counsel

As an 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.

Karen Silva

Terra Firma Staff Law Clerk

Karen obtained her Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Stony Brook University and her JD from Hofstra Law School. During her time in law school, Karen gained extensive experience providing legal services to immigrants, especially immigrant children, including working with Safe Passage Project, serving as a David Kadane Clinical Fellow, and interning with the Youth Advocacy Clinic at Hofstra. This experience led Karen to pursue immigration law at CARECEN where she serves proudly as our Terra Firma Law Clerk with the Youth Immigration Program (YIP). She is passionate about representing minors in pursuit of SIJS, who have dealt with abandonment, abuse, and neglect.

Marcia Suárez

Paralegal

Marcia was born in Mendoza, Argentina and migrated with their family to Queens, NY over twenty years ago. This makes them extremely passionate about immigration issues and advocacy. They love learning about legal processes and being a part of helping others get immigration benefits. Marcia comes to CARECEN with experience working in both nonprofit and private immigration organizations. They have worked in many areas of the immigration field including translation and interpretation, organizing, and legal work.

They love to help people navigate the sometimes complex immigration landscape and help people feel comfortable in asking questions about their cases.

In their free time, Marcia likes to hang out with their cat, Lucy, read, and make bread for their friends and family.

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.

Areeba Thakir, Esq.

Supervising Attorney

Areeba joins CARECEN as the Supervising Attorney for ONA Legal Counsel, bringing with her a wealth of experience and a strong commitment to access to justice initiatives. Prior to joining CARECEN, Areeba served as the Supervising Attorney for New York Legal Response at Catholic Charities Community Services, where she focused on providing assistance to individuals facing removal. Born in Kashmir and raised on Long Island, she pursued her education at SUNY Binghamton, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Economic Policy Analysis and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Law. Areeba went on to attend Cornell Law School, where she served as a fellow at the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research in Lusaka, Zambia. Following law school, Areeba worked as a Public Defender at Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, passionately advocating for indigent individuals throughout the criminal prosecution process to ensure their rights were protected.

Jerreka Turner-Lewis

Operations Associate

Jerreka Turner-Lewis, a first-generation American whose roots trace back to the vibrant culture of Trinidad and Tobago. Her journey is a testament to the pursuit of excellence and the fusion of diverse influences. Her professional passion lies in creating better workspaces for employees dedicated to enhancing organizational effectiveness.

Jerreka holds a dual Master's degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology and Legal Studies, along with a Bachelor's degree in Public Relations and Marketing. She offers a strong foundation in legal concepts, a proven track record in customer service, problem-solving, and strategic planning. She finds joy in cooking with her family, cherishing moments with her daughter in her free time, and traveling the world trying new cuisines.

Donna Vargas, MSW

Social Worker

Born and raised on Long Island, and proud daughter of Peruvian immigrants, Donna is passionate in helping improve the health and well-being for Long Island’s immigrant communities. Donna received her Masters degree in Social Work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work in August 2022.

Donna joins the social work team at CARECEN. She has over 7 years of experience in public services within the health and human services and non-profit sector. She is knowledgeable in health care access and program development. Donna worked for the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island as Health Care Access Manager, overseeing the health care access programs, providing health insurance enrollment assistance to hundreds of immigrant families, and led the community health advocates team, improving health care policies through legislative advocacy, participating in campaigns such as End Medical Debt, and Coverage4All, and ensuring equitable access to health care for Long Islanders. She is knowledgeable in health insurance topics such as Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health plans and has assisted many individuals in disputing overwhelmingly high medical bills.

Donna is an adamant believer in self-care. She likes to spend time with her friends and family and enjoys hiking, swimming, yoga, and painting.

Maria Zoco

Immigrant Resource Coordinator

Maria obtained her Bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, and a Masters of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She comes to CARECEN with a diverse background in the fields of medicine, public health, education and community engagement. Her work has all been focused on advancing equity, particularly for marginalized populations, including her recent work as a volunteer with CARECEN's ESOL program.

In her free time, Maria enjoys running, reading and spending time with her family and friends.

Staff
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Our Team

Who We Are

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