Safe Passage Project Staff

UnknownLenni 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.

MeganEPMegan Eiss-Proctor, Director of 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.

DH final choiceDesireé 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.

Bethany Ow, Staff Attorney

A 2009 graduate of New York Law School, Bethany Ow has been working in the field of immigration law for over a decade.  Ms. Ow began working with the Safe Passage Project in July 2012 and helped to implement our successful juvenile docket screening program at the New York Immigration Court.  Prior to her work with Safe Passage, Ms. Ow was employed with the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review in Houston, Texas, where she gained valuable experience in the field by researching and drafting legal decisions on behalf of eight Immigration Court judges.  Ms. Ow has published an academic article regarding federal court jurisdiction over citizenship cases and served as one of the principal research assistants on a recently published immigration law textbook.  Ms. Ow is the 2009 recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Proficiency in Constitutional Law, and accepted the 2008 New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Service Award on behalf of the Safe Passage Project. During her time at New York Law School, Ms. Ow was an Articles Editor for the New York Law School Law Review, and was active in the New York Law School Immigration Law Students Association. She is currently a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Bar Association.  She is admitted to practice in New York.

alexpicAlexandra 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.

IMG_3069Guillermo Stampur, Staff Attorney

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 with Make The Road and The Door, where he represented immigrant youth in both Family and Immigration courts. Mr. Stampur was the 2010 recipient of the Archibald R. Murray Public Service award and the 2009 Ann Moynihan Public Interest Fellowship.

ClaireThomasClaire R. Thomas, Staff Attorney and Adjunct Professor

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.

Martin Rothstein, Mentor Attorney and Adjunct Professor

Mr. Rothstein is a Senior Partner with Barst Mukamal & Klenier LLP. His firm is one of the oldest and largest Immigration and Nationality Law firms in the United States, handling all manners of US Immigration and Nationality cases. Mr. Rothstein has appeared before various courts and reviews, in addition to preparation of immigrant and non-immigrant petitions, applications, and appeals.  As a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Mr. Rothstein is a member of the National Board of Governors, Chair of the National Naturalization Committee, and the Chair of the New York City chapter of the Association. He is also the co-author the book “US Immigration Laws, Working, Living, and Studying in America” which was published by the Hein Publishing Company and translated into Japanese and Chinese, reaching a worldwide audience. Mr. Rothstein has been a guest lecturer at various Associations and Universities including the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, New York State Bar Association, the Practicing Law Institute, NYU School of Law and University of Texas School of law, amongst others. He has been recognized by New York Magazine as one of New York’s Top Attorneys, one of New York’s Super Lawyers by the New York Times, and has been included in the list of Best Lawyers in America as well as in Who’s Who Legal. Mr. Rothstein was admitted to the New York Bar in 1968 and the District of Columbia Bar in 1970.

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 Chiquillo, Safe Passage Legal Graduate 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 graduate fellow.

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.

Carlos Valenzuela, justice Americorps Paralegal
cvalenzuela@safepassgeproject.orgScreen Shot 2015-02-26 at 1.22.30 PM

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.

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