Lenni Benson, Executive Director and Founder
Professor Lenni Benson is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of immigration law and political asylum. Before joining the New York Law School faculty in the early 1990s, Professor Benson represented numerous corporations and individuals as partner at the international firm, Bryan Cave, LLP.
Professor Benson has won widespread recognition and numerous awards; in 1999, the American Immigration Lawyers Association named her Outstanding Professor in Immigration Law based on her contributions to the professional and scholarly development of the field and her role as a mentor of students and young attorneys. She was honored in 2008, along with other members of the Safe Passage Project, and received the State Bar President’s Award for Pro Bono Law School Project. She recently co-authored the first interactive immigration law textbook, and has authored numerous oft-cited articles, as well as many training videos and other visual materials.
From 2011-2012 Professor Benson was a consultant to the Administrative Conference of the United States, and prepared an extensive analysis of and recommendations for improvements to the system of immigration removal and adjudication. She is an active participant in immigrant rights projects coordinated by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), serves on the board of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, and is a trustee emeritus for the American Immigration Law Foundation. She has also served as Chair of the Immigration Committee of the Administrative Law Section of the American Bar Association and as Chair of the Immigration Section of the American Association of Law Schools.
Megan Eiss-Proctor, Associate Director, Operations and Development
Megan Eiss-Proctor volunteered with the Safe Passage Project for several years before joining the team full-time. Ms. Eiss-Proctor received a BA from the George Washington University in 2000 and joined Teach for America after graduation. After teaching 5th grade for two years in the South Bronx, she enrolled in law school and received her J.D. from New York Law School in 2005. She served as an Executive Articles Editor of the NYLS Law Review, and was an active member of the NYLS Justice Action Center. After graduating, she practiced family law in New York City and in August 2010 started her own practice focused on helping start-ups, small businesses, and not-for-profits.
Guillermo Stampur, Associate Director, Legal Services
A 2010 graduate of Fordham Law School, Gui Stampur has extensive experience working with youth. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, he established SportSupport, an organization that provides mentoring and psychological and emotional support for children through athletics. Before coming to Safe Passage Project, Mr. Stampur worked at Make The Road and The Door, where he represented immigrant youth in Family and Immigration court, and before USCIS. He is the founder of Safe Passage in Schools and Amigos de Safe Passage. Mr. Stampur was the 2010 recipient of the Archibald R. Murray Public Service award and the 2009 Ann Moynihan Public Interest Fellowship. He is also a proud coach of two Nationally ranked boys soccer teams.
Claire R. Thomas, Director of Training
Claire Thomas graduated from the University of Chicago and also studied at the Universite de Paris X,
Nanterre. She holds a graduate degree from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and a law degree from New York Law School. Before joining the Safe Passage Project team in 2014, she advocated for the rights of African and Caribbean immigrants as a legal intern, then staff attorney at the African Services Committee, a Harlem non-profit that assists persons living with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Ms. Thomas provided pro bono representation for survivors of gender-based violence, including minors, in immigration proceedings. Ms. Thomas also directed “Projet Aimée,” the African Services Committee’s women’s empowerment group for survivors of gender-based violence, funded by a Community Action Grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She is a member of the Immigration & Nationality Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York as well as chair of the Youth and Children subcommittee. She is also an adjunct member of the Association’s African Affairs Committee and co-chair of its Gender subcommittee. She has contributed articles on women’s rights to Perspectives on Global Issues and to Women for Women International’s Critical Half Journal.
Rex Chen, Mentor Attorney
Rex Chen is nationally recognized for termination and suppression motions in immigration court to challenge government misconduct. He co-authored a 2015 Vera Institute practice advisory about termination motions for children and has given presentations at conferences, seminars, and law schools across the country. Before joining the Safe Passage Project in 2015, he worked at Legal Aid Society and Catholic Charities of Newark. At Catholic Charities of Newark, he directed its immigration program and handled a wide range of immigration cases in immigration court, the BIA, and the Third Circuit, including a successful Third Circuit appeal in 2008 involving the intersection of a United Nations Convention and immigration law. He runs a joint defense group about suppression motions and has been a Board member of the National Immigration Project for several years. Before Catholic Charities, he practiced commercial litigation at a NYC law firm, clerked for the New Jersey Supreme Court, and graduated with honors from NYU Law School. He has made a documentary video about an immigrant wrongly convicted of murder, studied poetry creative writing in college, speaks Spanish, and enjoys watching futbol on television.
Desireé Hernández, Supervising Attorney
A 2008 graduate of New York Law School, Desireé C. Hernández is an experienced immigration attorney. Prior to joining the Safe Passage Project, she was an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Jan Allen Reiner, where she successfully represented clients in all aspects of immigration law with a particular emphasis on complex litigation before USCIS, the EOIR Immigration Court, the BIA and the U.S. Court, Eastern District of New York and a volunteer attorney for Safe Passage. During law school, Ms. Hernández founded and was the President of NYLS’s Immigration Law Student Association (ILSA), and organized NYLS’s Immigration Awareness Month in March 2007. As a law student, Ms. Hernández interned at Her Justice (formerly inMotion), the New York Association for New Americans, and Garganigo, Goldsmith and Weiss. She was the recipient of the Public Interest Service Certificate Award, the Abbey Fellow in Poverty Law and the Joseph Solomon Public Interest Fellow. Ms. Hernández has a B.A. in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Puerto Rico. She is admitted to practice in New York and New Jersey. Ms. Hernandez is fluent in Spanish.
Samantha Norris, Staff Social Worker
Samantha joined the Safe Passage Project in the spring of 2015. Prior to joining Safe Passage, she was a social worker at South Bronx United, where she provided counseling and advocacy to youth and families and also coached a competitive high school girls’ soccer team. Before moving to NYC, Samantha served two years in the Peace Corps as a Youth Development Volunteer in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, where she worked with at-risk children, youth, and families in collaboration with a local nonprofit organization. Her passions include immigrant rights, youth development, gender empowerment, and soccer. Born and raised in Chicago, Samantha received her B.S. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her M.A. in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. She is currently working towards a certificate in immigration law from the CUNY School of Professional Studies and is a licensed master social worker (LMSW) in New York State.
Alexandra Rizio, Staff Attorney
A 2012 graduate of Fordham Law School and a 2006 graduate of Columbia University, Alexandra Rizio has a long history of advocating for the rights of migrants. Most recently, she served as an Associate Immigration Attorney at the firm Masliah & Soloway. Previously, Ms. Rizio coordinated a pro bono program at Start Small Think Big, an economic empowerment non-profit located in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. At Fordham Law, Ms. Rizio was a Stein Scholar in Public Interest and Ethics, a Crowley Scholar in International Human Rights, and a 2012 recipient of the Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award. During law school, Ms. Rizio served as the Ellenbogen Fellow at HerJustice (formerly inMotion), as a Revson Fellow in the Family Law and Domestic Violence Unit of South Brooklyn Legal Services, and as an asylum intern at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. She was also a Leitner Fellow at MAP Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand; in that role, she researched labor violations and gender-based violence experienced by female Burmese migrant workers, and analyzed Thailand’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Prior to law school, Alexandra worked for the UN’s International Labor Organization in Bangkok, for the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, and volunteered for the Refugee and Immigrant Fund in Queens.
Astrid Avedissian, Justice AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at Jadeja and Cimone LLP
Astrid Avedissian graduated from New York University with a double major in Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Italian. She studied Universite de Paris IV, Sorbonne. She holds a graduate degree in Law and Anthropology from The London School of Economics, and a law degree from New York Law School. During law school, Ms. Avedissian interned with Human Rights Watch General Counsel at HRW Headquarters. She was also a legal intern at the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), United Nations Secretariat. Ms. Avedissian was the Managing Editor of ASIL Cables, the American Society of International Law for its annual plenary meeting of 2013. Astrid is excited to be in the first class of justice AmeriCorps fellows.
Juan Carlos Chiquillo, Justice Americorps Legal Fellow
Juan Carlos Chiquillo graduated from The University of Texas with a double major in Government and Latin American Studies. He studied at la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana were he received a Certificate of language proficiency in Business Spanish, in Bogota Colombia. He holds a law degree from New York Law School. During law school, Mr. Chiquillo interned with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. He was also completed an Academic Externship at Rand, Rosenzweig, Radley, Gordon LLP. Juan is excited to be in the join the Safe Passage Project team as a Justice Americorps fellow.
Molly Jacobs-Meyers, Justice Americorps Paralegal
Molly Jacobs-Meyer graduated from Bard College in May 2014 with a double major in Political Studies and Spanish. She interned for Central American Legal Assistance in the summer of 2012. She will be starting Law School in the fall of 2015.
Luisa Lebron, Justice Americorps Legal Fellow
Luisa was born and raised in northern New Jersey, where she currently resides. She graduated from St. John’s University in 2010 with a Bachelors of Art in Government and Politics and a minor in Legal Studies. During her undergraduate studies, she was a member of the founding chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity and worked at the Rittenberg Law Library to gain legal research experience.
Luisa graduated from New York Law School in June 2014. During her final year of law school, she was a clinical intern with Safe Passage Project, where she enjoyed assisting pro bono attorneys with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Asylum matters. As a Justice AmeriCorps Fellow, Luisa will provide direct representation to unaccompanied minors in Family Court and Immigration Court proceedings.
Melina Somoza, Safe Passage Project Legal Fellow
Melina Somoza was born and raised in Denver, Colorado and graduated with academic distinction with a double major in Ethnic Studies and Spanish Language and Literature, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Melina graduated from Columbia Law School in May 2015. During law school she participated in the Unaccompanied Youth Externship with Legal Aid in which she represented children in both federal immigration and state family court proceedings. She also previously interned with the U.S. Department of Labor and Legal Aid’s Criminal Appeals Bureau. Melina is excited to continue advocating for immigrant youth as a graduate legal fellow with the Safe Passage Project.
Carlos Valenzuela, Justice Americorps Paralegal
Carlos A. Valenzuela graduated CUNY Brooklyn College with a double major in Business Administration and English Literature. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Carlos started as a volunteer law student with the Safe Passage Project during his first year at New York Law School; he is currently a second-year law student and is expected to complete his J.D in 2016. Over the summer 2014, he became a fulltime Legal Research Assistant for Professor Benson. He is pursuing a career in Business Immigration, while remaining committed to child migrant representation on a pro bono basis. His family is from Guatemala and so representing the young migrant community is very close to his heart. He is fluent is Spanish and this allows him to connect with the clients in a significant way. He serves as support to the Safe Passage Staff Attorneys and loves working with all of them.