Legal Services Coordinator
Senior Director, Refugee Protection
As the director of Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection program, Eleanor Acer oversees Human Rights First’s research and advocacy on issues relating to refugee protection, asylum, and migrants’ rights. Eleanor advocates, speaks and writes regularly on issues relating to the human rights of refugees and migrants, including legal representation, detention, U.S. asylum law and policy, U.S. global refugee protection and resettlement policies, and protection from xenophobic and bias-motivated violence. She works closely with Human Rights First’s pro bono legal representation team, conducts field research, has authored numerous reports and articles, and has testified before the U.S. Congress.
Eleanor was awarded the Louis J. Lefkowitz Award for Public Service by Fordham University School of Law in 2007. She was selected by the American Bar Association to serve on its Commission on Immigration, and serves on the Advisory Board of the International Detention Coalition. She was also vice chair of the Refugee Council USA from 2006 to 2008. She has taught classes on refugee protection and migrants rights as an adjunct professor at the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs.
Before coming to Human Rights First, Eleanor was an associate handling federal litigation at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP. She has coordinated mentoring programs and has served on the International Human Rights Committee and Immigration Committee of the Association of the Bar of New York, as well as the Board of Advisors to the Crowley Program in International Human Rights at Fordham University School of Law. Eleanor received her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law and her B.A. in History from Brown University.
Director, Institutional Giving
As Human Rights First’s Director of Institutional Giving, Luis Arias oversees the institutional giving portfolio and fundraising strategy. Luis works closely with the Senior Vice President of Development and the Director of Finance to track fundraising processes and achieve annual revenue goals.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Luis was the Senior Development Officer, Institutional Giving at the Women’s Refugee Commission where he led the WRC’s grant-making operations and collaborated with the Director of Business Development and Fundraising to develop strategic grant opportunities and institutional development tools.
Luis is a USAID Alumnus and sits on the board of the Marfan Foundation. He earned his Master of Science degree from Fairleigh Dickenson University and a Bachelor of Arts from Fairfield University. When he’s not spending time with his young family in suburban New Jersey, Luis enjoys hiking and rock climbing.
Director Research & Analysis, Refugee Protection
As Director of Research & Analysis for Refugee Protection, Christina Asencio advocates for the U.S. government to bring immigration laws, policies, and practices in line with international refugee and human rights law.
Most recently, Christina was an attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona where she represented detained asylum-seekers in their immigration removal proceedings, including as court-appointed counsel for individuals deemed incompetent to represent themselves.
Prior to that, Christina spent a decade working in refugee protection in the Americas, Middle East, and Southeast Asia with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and various NGOs. As Head of Protection with UNHCR Brazil, she coordinated the agency’s national refugee protection response to the influx of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, including at Brazil’s northern border, and oversaw technical support provided to the Brazilian asylum authority.
Previously, she worked with UNHCR in the Dominican Republic on issues of asylum and statelessness and in Jordan adjudicating complex asylum claims. Christina was awarded a Public Service Fellowship by Boston University School of Law to work with Asylum Access Ecuador to provide free legal assistance to refugees in their asylum claims and later worked with Asylum Access Thailand supporting the provision of free legal services for refugees in Bangkok. Christina also previously represented survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in their affirmative U.S. immigration applications such as VAWA, U, and T visas.
Christina received her J.D. from Boston University School of Law, spent a semester studying international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and received her B.A. cum laude in Political Science and International Studies with a minor in Foreign Languages from the University of Miami. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese. She is licensed to practice law in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts.
Human Resources Assistant/Office Coordinator
Brenda Balcarcel is the human resources and office coordinator at Human Rights First. She works on recruiting candidates, onboarding new staff, and managing important office communications.
Brenda has been at Human Rights First for two years. She previously worked for Jubilee JumpStart, a nonprofit in the Washington, DC area that provides quality care and education to young children in the local area. At Jubilee JumpStart, Brenda worked in operations, handling employee-related duties like onboarding and payroll.
Brenda earned her B.A. in interdisciplinary studies from Mount St. Mary’s University, where she studied Spanish and education. Brenda earned SHRM-CP certification, a competency-based certification focused on knowledge and behaviors necessary to be a successful HR professional. Brenda, who is fluent in English and Spanish, enjoys reading and is passionate about advocating for refugee rights.
Director, Refugee Advocacy
As Director of Refugee Advocacy, Robyn oversees Human Rights First’s congressional and administrative advocacy to protect the rights of refugees and ensure the United States commits to refugee protection, including access to asylum protections and resettlement, at home and abroad.
Robyn previously served as an attorney on our Refugee Representation team, where she focused on pro bono representation of asylum seekers in immigration detention, expedited removal, and those subject to policies such as Remain in Mexico and Title 42. She supported pro bono attorneys’ representation of asylum seekers at all levels of the immigration system. Robyn also worked as a staff attorney with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and was a C.V. Starr Fellow at Peking University School of Transnational Law.
Robyn has appeared in numerous print, television, and online media outlets and has testified in federal court as an expert on the detention of asylum seekers. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne Law School and is admitted to the bar in New York State. Robyn serves on the board of Aldea – the People’s Justice Center.
Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications
Jim Bernfield oversees Human Rights First’s marketing and communications efforts. His work has always focused on using data to craft emotional narratives that brand organizations, elect leaders, and change policy.
Before joining Human Rights First, he worked with a range of nonprofit, political, and commercial organizations, from the Alliance for Climate Protection to the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Los Angeles Dodgers to the last five Democratic Presidential nominees. For Repower America, he amplified voices not typically at the center of the environmental movement in the fight against climate change. The success of his work at American Resources Network led to his creating the television documentary Rally Behind the Virginians and writing a chapter on communications strategy in Let the People Judge. In electoral politics, Jim produced media that defeated Joe Arpaio, known as America’s worst sheriff for his disregard of immigrants’ and prisoners’ human rights.
As President of the 1661 Foundation, Jim nurtured new generations of leaders from underrepresented communities. At the outset of his career, he helped plan and lead the Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner Memorial Coalition’s bus caravan from New York City to Philadelphia Mississippi to highlight America’s unfinished journey toward social justice.
Jim produced and directed Me To Play, a documentary feature now streaming about actors with Parkinson’s disease who put up Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. He wrote It’s Best Not to Know, a TV miniseries based on two sisters’ experience in the Holocaust.
Jim holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Columbia College at Columbia University in the City of New York.
President and CEO
Michael Breen is President & CEO of Human Rights First. In partnership with a diverse and highly skilled team and their allies around the world, he leads actions that defend human rights, democracy and the rule of law, hold oppressors accountable, and free people from injustice. On Mike’s watch, Human Rights First has launched a series of impactful new initiatives to oppose antidemocratic extremism with a rights-based approach, develop and field advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for the human rights movement, respond to crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine, protect asylum seekers on the southern border, bring accountability to the world’s worst human rights abusers, and confront systemic injustice.
Before joining Human Rights First, Breen served as President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy, co-founded the International Refugee Assistance Project, served in the Obama administration’s Office of White House Counsel, and led American paratroopers in combat as an Army officer. He has worked and served in conflict zones around the world, led dozens of successful and award-winning campaigns for policy change at the federal and state level on a range of climate, national security, and human rights issues, and advised hundreds of electoral campaigns for offices from state representative to president. His writing and commentary have been featured by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Meet the Press, and many others.
Breen holds a JD from Yale Law School and a BA from Dartmouth College, having studied in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and England. A former ice climbing instructor, big wall rock climber, martial artist, wilderness search and rescue team leader, and open ocean sailor, Mike can often be found enjoying the outdoors with his family.
User Experience Designer
Joseph Bustamante serves as the User Experience Designer in Human Rights First’s Innovation Lab. He is a human-centered design specialist with expertise in user research, interface, and interaction design,
Joseph was an external UX consultant for our Innovation Lab on Glimpse, its flagship artificial intelligence project that uses computer vision and natural language processing to detect violence in videos for human rights investigations. Joseph previously served as an entrepreneurial UX and Product Design consultant, supporting new initiatives and product launches at startups, software agencies, and Twilio’s SendGrid.
Joseph earned his Bachelor of Science in Informatics with a specialization in human-computer interaction from the University of California, Irvine.
Director of Information Technology
As director of information technology, Peter Chan oversees the technological environment for Human Rights First. He is responsible for designing and implementing technological strategies to provide solutions that align with the organization’s mission.
Peter earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from St. Johns University and is accredited as a Cisco Certified Network Professional.
Managing Attorney (Los Angeles)
Farida Chehata is the managing attorney of the Los Angeles office of Human Rights First where she oversees the pro bono legal representation of indigent asylum seekers. She provides support and guidance to volunteer attorneys in law firms located in Los Angeles, California, who represent asylum seekers at all levels of the immigration system.
Before joining Human Rights First, Farida was the Director of the Immigration Practice Group at Inland Counties Legal Services (ICLS), where she oversaw direct legal representation of survivors of domestic violence and other serious crimes. Prior to that, Farida founded the Immigrants’ Rights Center at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA) office. As Managing Attorney, she positioned CAIR-LA as a legal resource on immigration matters through varied publications, speaking events, and media interviews on issues impacting AMEMSA immigrants.
Farida has a dual degree in political science and economics from the University of California, Irvine. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and is admitted to practice law in California. She is fluent in Arabic.
Supervising Senior Staff Attorney
Warren is a supervising senior staff attorney at Human Rights First’s Los Angeles office. His responsibilities include helping to administer Human Rights First’s pro bono refugee representation program, mentoring pro bono attorneys, supervising Human Rights First staff and associate attorneys, and directly representing asylum seekers before the Immigration Court and USCIS Asylum Office.
Before joining Human Rights First, Warren worked for over seven years as an immigration attorney in private practice in Austin and San Antonio, Texas. He has successfully represented many asylum seekers and their families in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court, affirmative applications before the USCIS Asylum Office, and appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals. He has also helped clients obtain immigration relief such as special immigration juvenile status, temporary protected status, U and T visas, benefits under the Violence Against Women Act, cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, naturalization, immigrant visas, and DACA. Additionally, Warren has worked on federal litigation cases involving immigration and human rights issues, including several cases that led to favorable precedent decisions.
Warren is licensed in California and Texas and is a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. Prior to law school, Warren was a high school English teacher where he taught students who recently immigrated to the United States.
Program Strategist, Veterans for American Ideals
As Program Strategist for the Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) initiative at Human Rights First, Emilee Cutright supports and advances the policy objectives of VFAI by engaging in research, policy analysis, administrative support, and targeted advocacy with veterans and refugees around the country.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Emilee worked at the Tennessee Fair Housing Council, where she managed a caseload of over one hundred clients. There, she conducted targeted advocacy, facilitation, and mediation to eliminate housing discrimination and homelessness in the greater Nashville area. She has also interned with the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice in San Diego, CA, where she worked as a member of the editorial staff for their Women Peacemakers initiative. During graduate school, she interned with the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Community Relations Service, the “Peacemaking” agency of the DOJ for communities in conflict.
Emilee holds a Master of Arts in Peace and Justice Studies from the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, where she focused on Human Rights Advocacy. She also attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she graduated with highest honors with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a minor in Psychology.
As the Finance Supervisor at Human Rights First, Vlad oversees the organization’s accounting and ensures the accuracy and integrity of its financial data. He performs the monthly closing entries, assists with audits, and conducts finance orientations for new employees.
Vlad graduated from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from Baruch College.
As Senior Advisor, Brian supports Human Rights First’s work with human rights activists in hostile environments.
Prior to serving as Senior Advisor, Brian directed Human Rights First’s engagement with the U.S. government and other partners to end threats and obstacles to human rights defenders.
From 2020 to 2023, he served as Senior Advisor to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Brian spent twenty years working for U.S., Irish, and international NGOs. He led Amnesty International’s work on partnering with national NGOs in the global South. Brian has also worked as Head of Media for Amnesty International in London and in Dublin and as Director of Communications for Public Citizen in Washington, D.C.
He is the author of several books about civil rights and U.S. politics. He had early experience on Capitol Hill, serving as a legislative researcher for Senator Edward Kennedy in the mid-1980s when he contributed to what ultimately became the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act.
In 1981 and 1982, Brian lived and worked as an English teacher and community organizer in a black township in South Africa, which was prohibited under apartheid’s racial segregation laws.
Brian earned a PhD in the transnational history of rights from the University of East Anglia, an MPhil in Government and Politics from The Open University in London, and a B.A. with honors in Political Science from the University of East Anglia.
Diyerly “DJ” Duque
Human Resources Generalist
As HR Manager, Diyerly Duque oversees all human resources processes and programs. She manages the overall recruitment and hiring process — benefits management, onboarding, payroll administration, and our internship and fellowship programs.
DJ joined Human Rights First in 2018 as a Bilingual Administrative Assistant Volunteer at the Washington, DC office, and then served as HR Assistant, HR Coordinator, and HR Generalist. In addition to currently serving as our HR Manager, DJ is the organization’s DEI Council Co-Chair.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, DJ served as a Human Development Intern at the Venezuelan National Assembly, where she was responsible for training employees in professional tools, improving work culture, and developing a citizen participation project to promote democracy and government accountability in communities.
DJ is passionate about freedom and committed to defending human rights and social justice. In 2017, she was a speaker at the HDCA Annual Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa where she presented her thesis work, based on Amarya Sen’s perspective of freedom, on emigration and its relationship to Human Development.
DJ is SHRM certificated and has earned a Management Certificate from Harvard Business School Online. Diyerly graduated cum laude from Lisandro Alvarado University of Venezuela, where she received a bachelor’s degree in human development.
Maya El Cheikh
Legal Services Coordinator/DOJ Fully-Accredited Representative
As a legal services coordinator in New York, Maya El Cheikh conducts screenings of potential clients; writes case assessments; supports pro bono and in-house attorneys; helps manage the New York office’s client database; assists in supporting advocacy efforts; and helps select, train, and supervise interns.
As a Department of Justice (DOJ) fully-accredited representative, Maya directly represents immigrants in removal proceedings before the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review under the supervision of our New York office’s managing attorney. She helps clients secure various immigration-related benefits, including asylum, employment authorization, family reunification, and adjustment of status.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Maya worked with the Victim Services Unit at the District Attorney’s office in Brooklyn. There, she assisted victims of various crimes, including domestic violence, with VAWA and U-visa petitions.
In addition to her legal background, Maya holds a master’s degree in Special Education and Inclusion from the University of Roehampton, a master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, and a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Canada. Maya is a native Arabic speaker and is conversationally fluent in Spanish.
As Development Coordinator, Grace supports grant portfolios across Human Rights First’s various programs and manages the development team’s data tracking systems.
Grace received a Master of Arts in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict & Security from The New School. While studying at The New School, she served as a Research Fellow at the International Rescue Committee Office of the President, where she provided research support on a diversity of topics including refugee matters, armed conflicts and peacekeeping, and COVID-19 . Grace participated in The New School’s International Field Program, which led her to conduct field research in Lesvos, Greece and Belgrade, Serbia on migrant smuggling and the criminalization of humanitarian work in the context of Europe’s refugee crisis. Prior to earning her MA, she worked at the New York County Lawyers Association.
Grace graduated from Adelphi University summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minors in European Studies and French.
Grace started dancing at the age of three and can still be found in a dance studio taking classes multiple nights per week. More recently, she has taken up running and hiking.
Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow
Andrew Feinberg, the Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow sponsored by Latham & Watkins LLP, provides pro bono representation to asylum seekers and works to dismantle systemic barriers that prevent indigenous peoples from Central America from receiving asylum in the United States.
During law school, Andrew was a student attorney with UCLA’s Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, where he successfully represented asylum seekers and petitioners for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Andrew was a summer legal fellow with the UCLA Law Center for Immigration Law and Policy and worked as a legal intern with Al Otro Lado on immigrants’ rights litigation before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Andrew served as Executive Director of UCLA Law Students for Immigrant Justice and Managing Editor of the UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs.
Andrew holds a J.D. with a specialization in Public Interest Law and Policy from the UCLA School of Law, and a B.A. from Hampshire College.
Human Rights Investigations Researcher
As Human Rights Investigations Researcher, Maya Fernandez-Powell researches the targeting of Human Rights Defenders and other HRD-related issues. She engages with international HRDs to support their security and advocacy efforts and writes about issues related to HRDs.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Maya worked as an undergraduate research fellow in the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University, where she researched the far right in the European Union. She also worked as a foreign affairs legislative intern for U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Maya is currently studying for her Master’s Degree in Georgetown’s Applied Intelligence program. She earned a B.S. in Foreign Service, a minor in French, and a certificate in Diplomatic Studies from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her senior thesis was on far-right political rhetoric in Western and Eastern Europe. She is a fluent French speaker.
Senior Advisor for Combating Antisemitism
As Senior Advisor for Combatting Antisemitism, Ira Forman supports Human Rights First’s work to expose and counteract antisemitism at home and abroad in keeping with a U.S. foreign policy rooted in a strong commitment to human rights, universal values, and American ideals.
Ira was appointed the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (SEAS) in May 2013, serving until January 2017. From 2011-2012, He served as the Jewish Outreach Director for the Obama for America campaign. He also served for nearly 15 years as the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). Today, Ira is a visiting professor and senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization, where he teaches courses on confronting contemporary antisemitism, and is also is a senior fellow at Moment Magazine.
Ira received his B.A. from Harvard University and his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Managing Attorney, Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA)
Shala leads Project: Afghan Legal Assistance, Human Right’s First’s nationwide coordination of legal stakeholders responding to the resettlement of at-risk Afghans by the U.S. government. She also oversees the pro bono program that provides legal screenings and representation to Afghans eligible for asylum, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), and other forms of humanitarian protection.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Shala served as Director of Mercy Center’s Immigrant Services Department and as Supervising Attorney with Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of NY. Previous to that, she was a Blossom Hill Legal Fellow with Refugee Rights Turkey in Istanbul, and worked in Greece for Greek Council for Refugees and HIAS, serving Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers. Shala worked on a report documenting reconciliation following the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina and served in anti-poverty projects in Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Shala obtained her B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University, and her J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is admitted to practice law in New York and is fluent in Dari, Farsi, and Spanish.
Senior Research and Policy Counsel, Refugee Protection
As Senior Research and Policy Counsel with Refugee Protection, Rebecca supports Human Rights First’s efforts to promote the protection of refugees and reform the U.S. asylum system.
Rebecca received a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 2019. In law school, Rebecca was a student director of the Immigration Legal Services Clinic, where she represented asylum seekers and green card applicants. She was also a research coordinator for the Immigration Policy Tracking Project, which catalogues every immigration policy from January 2017 to January 2021. During law school, Rebecca interned at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Appeals Bureau.
Rebecca graduated Cum Laude from Williams College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with honors.
Director, Refugee Representation
Jenna Gilbert is Director of Refugee Representation, where she oversees Human Rights First’s pro bono legal representation program, which provides indigent asylum seekers with high quality legal representation in the New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles metropolitan areas.
She previously served as the Managing Attorney of the Los Angeles office of Human Rights First, leading the Los Angeles team, overseeing the legal representation of indigent asylum seekers in the Los Angeles area, and training and mentoring pro bono volunteer lawyers. Prior to her role as Managing Attorney, Jenna was a Staff Attorney in both the New York and Los Angeles offices of Human Rights First.
Before joining Human Rights First, Jenna was an associate attorney at an immigration law firm in Los Angeles, CA, where she managed a large caseload of defensive and affirmative immigration cases. Jenna specialized in removal defense, and frequently appeared in the Los Angeles Immigration Court representing clients with various forms of relief, including asylum, cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, NACARA, and criminal waivers. She also successfully appealed cases before the Board of Immigration Appeals and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Prior to that, Jenna received a public interest fellowship to work for Asylum Access Ecuador, where she provided legal services for refugees and led a prison advocacy project in an effort to ensure that detained migrants were guaranteed protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Jenna litigated and presented oral arguments before Ecuador’s highest court in a case involving Ecuador’s unlawful imprisonment and denial of reparations to a Guinean refugee.
Jenna has a dual degree in international relations and Spanish language and literature from the University of San Diego. She received her Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is admitted to practice law in California. She is a frequent speaker on immigration-related topics affecting asylum seekers and is fluent in Spanish.
Sara Gormley is a Program Manager supporting the operation of the Refugee Representation team.
Sara joined Human Rights First with seven years of experience in logistics and project management, most recently as a senior associate at UNICEF USA and as a volunteer with HIAS, where she worked with immigrant detainees. Previously, Sara worked for the United Nations Secretariat in New York, managing operations for the UN General Assembly meetings.
She received her B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from Northeastern University, and her MSc in International Development from the University of Edinburgh. Sara has spent many years of her professional and academic career living outside of the United States, where she studied French, Spanish, and Arabic. She is currently based in Washington, D.C
Event Operations Associate
As the events operations associate, Miranda supports the development team in all in-person and virtual fundraising activities, from meetings to annual awards celebrations.
Miranda comes to Human Rights First with years of experience in both non-profit and corporate organizations. She has held positions in events management and operations at Sony Music Entertainment, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Drum Major Institute, and most recently Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New York.
Miranda earned a BS degree in psychology from Morgan State University and a JD from the University of Maryland. She serves as co-founder of The Light Community Service Ministry and actively volunteers with many local service organizations in her community of Mount Vernon, New York.
Navid Ahmad Hewadwal
Legal Services Coordinator, Special Projects
Navid serves as a Legal Service Coordinator with our Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) team. He provides legal support for newly-arrived Afghan refugees by supporting PALA attorneys with data collection, arranging interpreters, handling translation requests, organizing legal clinics and client check-ins, and other tasks.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Navid worked as a translator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has years of experience as a translator and as an administrative assistant with local and international non-profit organizations in Afghanistan. He also served as a teacher and manager of the classes management committee at an education center in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Navid received his B.A. in Economics, Political Science, and Sociology at Bangalore University in 2016. He is fluent in English, Pashto, Dari, and Hindi.
Chief of Staff
Quentin Hines is Chief of Staff at Human Rights First. With nearly 25 years of experience in government affairs, executive support, and project management he manages the executive team, our Board of Directors, the organization’s day-to-day operations, and special projects of the Executive Office.
Quentin had a varied career before joining Human Rights First, supporting top lobbyists, government officials, and some of Washington’s most influential attorneys. He most recently served in the Office of Global Programs at the American Bar Association, where he supported the Associate Executive Director in managing ABA Global Programs and their Rule of Law Initiative.
As Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President at New York Life, Quentin helped manage operations of the Office of Governmental Affairs – Federal. In Washington, DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s executive office, Quentin served as liaison between the Deputy Mayor and Agency Directors regarding operations, funding, and legislative issues. As a Legislative Secretary at Powell Goldstein, Quentin oversaw the day-to-day operation of the firm’s Political Action Committee, in addition to those of clients such as the National Association of Public Hospitals and the National Association of Music Manufacturers.
Quentin graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School. A native Washingtonian, Quentin continues to live in Washington, DC, and is based in our DC office.
Associate Attorney, Accountability
As Associate Attorney for Accountability, Gita Howard supports Human Rights First’s use of targeted sanctions to promote accountability for human rights abuses and acts of corruption around the world. In partnership with civil society organizations and pro bono attorneys in our coalition, Gita conducts trainings and assists in the development of sanctions case files, liaises with U.S. government personnel, and contributes to Human Rights First’s research, writing, and advocacy on targeted human rights and anticorruption sanctions.
During law school, Gita interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs and the Tibetan Legal Association in Dharamshala, India. She also served as a legal intern and fellow at Miami Law’s Human Rights Clinic. Prior to law school, Gita worked as a research assistant and interned as a reporter.
Gita received her J.D. and graduated cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law. At Miami Law, she co-founded and served as president of Miami Law’s Human Rights Society. Gita was also published in and a member of Miami Law’s International and Comparative Law Review. Gita holds a B.A. in psychology from Scripps College. During college, she participated in a study abroad workshop at the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights.
Director of Legal Strategy, Refugee Programs
Anwen Hughes helps oversee Human Rights First’s pro bono representation program for indigent asylum seekers. Anwen provides training and support to volunteers from law firms in New York and New Jersey who represent asylum seekers through our program and assists in Human Rights First’s local and national advocacy on asylum issues. She also provides information and legal services to asylum seekers in INS detention, and helps coordinate their legal representation.
Before joining Human Rights First, Anwen was a staff attorney with the Passaic County Legal Aid Society in Paterson, New Jersey, where she represented recipients of public benefits and coordinated legal services for the elderly.
She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University (1993) with a B.A. in Classics, and from Yale Law School (1998).
Supervising Senior Staff Attorney
Mona Iman is a Supervising Senior Staff Attorney for Special Projects in Human Rights First’s Refugee Representation program. In this role, she provides training and mentorship to pro bono volunteer attorneys and coordinates wide-scale legal representation for Afghan refugees.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Mona was a Staff Attorney at Immigrant Defenders Law Center, where she represented hundreds of detained adults and unaccompanied minors in their defensive removal proceedings for over five years. Mona has broad experience in human rights advocacy and international legal development. She previously advised and coordinated strategic rule of law initiatives with the US Institute of Peace to support Iraq’s first independent constitution-making process following the US invasion, and directed programing to support human rights documentation in Iran with the Taslimi Foundation. Later at the ACLU of Southern California, Mona led the first investigation of a previously-secret US immigration policy that creates barriers and exclusions for Middle Eastern and North African applicants on the basis of overbroad national security designations. Mona was among the first to respond to former President Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban in Los Angeles, while maintaining a civil litigation practice at a private firm, and among other endeavors has worked widely in the Middle East and Africa.
Mona received her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center, and a dual degree in Middle Eastern Studies and International Relations from Emory University, with a minor in Persian Language and Literature. She was recently awarded for her legal and humanitarian contributions to the city of Los Angeles. Mona is fluent in Persian and has used her Spanish and Arabic professionally.
Jung Rae Jang
Full Stack Developer
Jung Rae Jang is a Full Stack Developer; he is responsible for the development, testing, maintenance, and launching of Innovation Lab projects.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Jung Rae was a software development analyst at Citi. Before becoming a software engineer, Jung Rae worked at various non-profit organizations as a community organizer working on issues including affordable housing, immigration reform, and language access for immigrants with limited English proficiency.
His previous experiences compelled him to combine his passion for technology with the goal of fighting injustice. He earned a B.A. at Hunter College.
Managing Attorney, New York
Piibe Jogi is the managing attorney of the Refugee Representation team at the New York office of Human Rights First, overseeing the pro bono legal representation of indigent asylum seekers. She mentors pro bono attorneys from New York and New Jersey law firms who represent asylum seekers at all levels of the system.
Before joining Human Rights First, Piibe was a senior staff attorney at Immigration Equality, a nonprofit organization that represents and advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-positive immigrants. She co-managed Immigration Equality’s pro bono asylum program, mentored pro bono attorneys, and also directly represented clients in affirmative and defensive proceedings.
Prior to joining Immigration Equality, Piibe worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, then briefly as a solo practitioner. She also worked pro bono for several nonprofit organizations in Westchester County, assisting undocumented immigrant survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking to gain legal status in the United States.
Piibe has taught law courses at Tartu University in Estonia, Uppsala University in Sweden, and Seton Hall Law School’s online program. She is the author of the textbook “Law and Ethics” (in Estonian) and several other publications.
Piibe’s degrees include an LL.B. (with the highest distinction) from Tartu University, Faculty of Law in Estonia, an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, England, and an LL.M. and a J.S.D. from New York University School of Law, where she was a Fulbright Scholar.
Senior Advisor, Human Rights Accountability
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian activist, politician, and filmmaker, has been a senior advisor to Human Rights First on human rights accountability since 2020. He was arrested in Russia in April 2022 for speaking out against the Russian government’s brutality in Ukraine and at home, and he remains arbitrarily imprisoned after being convicted in a sham trial and given a 25-year prison sentence.
A longtime colleague of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir played a key role in the passage of the original Magnitsky legislation, which imposed targeted sanctions on Russian human rights violators. Twice, in 2015 and 2017, he was poisoned and left in a coma; the attempts on his life were widely viewed as the Russian government’s retribution for his work on the Magnitsky sanctions. Since his imprisonment, governments around the world have imposed Magnitsky sanctions on his persecutors.
Vladimir is a contributing writer at the Washington Post and has continued to write op-eds from prison. He previously hosted a weekly show on Echo of Moscow radio, and has worked for the BBC, RTVi, and Kommersant. He has directed three documentary films, They Chose Freedom, Nemtsov, and My Duty to Not Stay Silent, and is the author of Reform or Revolution: The Quest for Responsible Government in the First Russian State Duma.
He has received several awards, including the Sakharov Prize for Journalism as an Act of Conscience, the Magnitsky Human Rights Award, and the Geneva Summit Courage Award. He holds an M.A. (Cantab.) in History from Cambridge. He is a Russian and British citizen and a U.S. permanent resident.
Afghanistan Advocacy Campaign Manager
Seelai Karzai is the Afghanistan Advocacy Campaign Manager at Human Rights First, where she works closely with members of the Evacuate Our Allies (EOA) Coalition to develop and lead public advocacy campaigns in support of organizational objectives on Afghanistan. Seelai coordinates communications strategies and digital advocacy campaigns to advance several objectives, including the introduction and passage of pro-refugee and resettlement federal legislation and continued evacuations and safe passage of flights for vulnerable Afghans left behind. She also serves on Human Rights First’s inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council.
Prior to this role, Seelai supported medical students and diversity programming at the Geisel School of Medicine while assisting in the evacuation efforts of vulnerable artists, writers, and cultural workers from Afghanistan after the US withdrawal in August 2021. Before this, she was a graduate student at the University of Oregon where she taught college-level poetry workshops and first-year writing courses.
Seelai earned a Masters in Fine Arts degree in Poetry from the University of Oregon and an MTS degree in Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion from Harvard University. She is a member of the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association, an artist collective whose mission is to critically analyze US discourse on Afghanistan and showcase diasporic artworks to diverse audiences through public exhibits.
Program Manager, Evacuate our Allies Operations Center
Amie Kashon is the Program Manager of the Evacuate our Allies Operations Center (EOA Ops Center). She oversees the strategy and day-to-day operations of a 7-day a week information center that assists Afghans, their advocates in the United States, and human rights and advocacy organizations with continuing relocation and resettlement. She also participates in ongoing advocacy on behalf of Afghans with U.S. government stakeholders. Amie has been with the EOA Ops Center since its start as a volunteer effort in August 2021 after the fall of Kabul.
Prior to working with Evacuate Our Allies, Amie served in a variety of roles at the Pacific Council on International Policy, including creating the organization’s impact program portfolio as Chief Initiatives Officer. She launched the Council’s U.S.-Mexico Initiative, worked in cooperation with local government on the Global Los Angeles Initiative, and supported ongoing project work for the Leadership Council of Women in National Security (LCWINS) and the Council’s Guantanamo Bay Legal Observer Program.
Amie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs magna cum laude from Occidental College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She is a member of the Truman National Security Project.
Director for Accountability
As Director for Accountability, Adam Keith is responsible for Human Rights First’s work advancing human rights in U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on tools and institutions that help promote accountability for serious abuses and corruption. He oversees our work coordinating a coalition of NGOs that use the Global Magnitsky Act and other targeted sanctions tools to pursue such accountability.
Adam worked for ten years as a career civil servant for the U.S. Department of State, including an assignment to the National Security Council staff’s Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights directorate as director for war crimes and atrocity prevention (2013-14). He also served as principal policy advisor to the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice; a desk officer for the African Great Lakes region and for Iraq; and a short-term political officer in Juba, South Sudan.
After leaving the U.S. government in October 2017, Adam consulted for the Open Society Policy Center, Open Society Justice Initiative, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Human Rights First. He is the co-author of the Holocaust Museum’s 2019 report, “By Any Other Name,” on the U.S. government’s policy and practice in making genocide determinations.
Adam has a Master in Public Affairs degree from Princeton University’s public policy school and a Bachelor of Arts from Rice University. He was a Fulbright fellow in Ghana, where he worked for the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, and he interned at the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He has lived and worked in Zimbabwe and South Sudan and studied in France. He speaks French, holds on to fragments of other languages acquired in the course of his travels, and lives in New York City.
Supervising Senior Staff Attorney
Nadia Khalid is a Supervising Senior Staff Attorney for Special Projects in Human Rights First’s Refugee Representation program. In this role, Ms. Khalid leads a nationwide pro-se asylum clinic series, provides training and mentorship to pro bono volunteer attorneys, and facilitates advocacy and representation for Afghan arrivals.
Prior to joining Human Rights First, Ms. Khalid was the Senior Staff Attorney for Catholic Charities Dallas where she coordinated the Afghan legal response through large-scale pro-se asylum workshops in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area. In the last year, Ms. Khalid has spoken on the refugee crisis at the State Bar of Texas Annual Poverty Law Conference and on leveraging services for recent Afghan arrivals for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) Annual Convening Conference. Ms. Khalid was recently published in the State Bar of Texas’ Immigration Bulletin Journal where she wrote on Title 42 as a Covid-19 crisis or a border crisis. Additional recent publications include “Examining the Crossover of Immigration and Family Law in Determining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” for the UNT Dallas College of Law Accessible Law Journal and the “Evolution of the Migrant Protection Protocol Program” for the Dallas Bar Association Headnotes Newspaper. Ms. Khalid has also written about the Afghan Adjustment Act and the search for permanent residency.
Ms. Khalid has been practicing immigration for five years with a focus on refugee and asylum law. Ms. Khalid received her Bachelors in Classical Languages from Rice University and her Juris Doctorate from Southern Methodist University. Prior to attending law school, Ms. Khalid was an intern for then-First Lady Michele Obama. Ms. Khalid is admitted to practice law in Texas and is fluent in Urdu, Spanish, and conversational Arabic.
Jason Long provides technical and strategic guidance to Innovation Lab projects and manages the Lab’s tech partnerships. Jason founded and built Blue Witness, an AI tool incubated at Human Rights First’s Innovation Lab to combat police violence in the United States.
Jason Long is a software engineer, founder, and technology executive with a passion for social change. He served as Chief Technology Officer at the digital product firm Sevenstar. Born and raised in Chicago, Jason is active in organizations providing opportunities to formerly incarcerated and otherwise marginalized people.
Kapildev Mahadeo is Human Rights First’s Finance Coordinator. He coordinates the organization’s financial data, recording of all accounts payable transactions and receipts, and ensures internal compliance with the organization’s expense policies.
Kapildev earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting from York College/City University of New York and is happy to now be contributing to the fulfillment of Human Rights First’s mission.
Litigation Legal Fellow
Human Resource Assistant/Office Coordinator
Carla Medina is the human resources assistant and office coordinator at Human Rights First. She works on recruiting candidates, operations, and managing important office communications. She also serves as the internship coordinator.
Carla has been at Human Rights First for over three years. Prior to her work at Human Rights First, she worked as a psych tech at the Center for Change where she was able to develop trauma informed skills.
Carla attended Brigham Young University where she studied psychology. She is fluent in Spanish and English and enjoys spending time at community events in Brooklyn.
Senior Vice President, Development
As the Senior Vice President for Development, Jennifer is responsible for designing and implementing the organization’s development strategy to broaden the organization’s financial support from individuals, law firms, businesses, and institutional funders.
Before joining Human Rights First, Jennifer spent four years with Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project where she started as the Managing Director of Development. In her last two years with Truman, Jennifer was the Managing Director of Programs and External Relations where she oversaw the creation and implementation of Truman’s communications and resource development strategies as well as the overall organizational brand management. Additionally, she oversaw the training program, chapter engagement, and the organizations’ major campaigns and initiatives.
Jennifer spent eight years at PAI, a global advocate for reproductive rights. In that time, Jennifer managed the organization’s major gifts program, working closely with individuals and family foundations, and she partnered with the grants team on proposal and report development, led the annual operational planning effort for her department each year, and served as part of an internal team tasked with an organizational re-branding effort. During her tenure with PAI, Jennifer held multiple positions of increasing responsibility. Prior to her work with PAI, Jennifer spent four years at VSA arts, an international NGO focused on ensuring access to the arts for people with disabilities worldwide, where she provided key support to the Executive Office, Board of Directors, and the organization’s vast network of domestic and international affiliates.
Since 2005, Jennifer has been a member of the Junior League of Washington, serving on a variety of fundraising committees throughout her involvement. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Arts Management from Shenandoah University. A Virginia native, Jennifer loves reading and running, and lives with her husband, son, and shepherd-hound mix in Alexandria, VA.
Budget and Grants Manager
Ms. Nelson is the Budgets and Grants Manager at Human Rights First.
Nelson constructs programmatic, departmental, and grant budgets, providing cost analyses, fiscal allocations, and budget preparation. She oversees the administration of restricted grants, including preparation of financial reports.
Nelson has experience in nonprofit and government accounting and holds a B.A. in Public Accounting and an MBA.
Chief Legal Officer
As Human Rights First’s inaugural Chief Legal Officer, Licha Nyiendo is responsible for overseeing the full spectrum of legal matters for the organization, including risk and compliance programs, advancement of high impact litigation that addresses social justice issues, and legal representation of refugees and asylum seekers.
Ms. Nyiendo previously served as the Commissioner for the New York State Division of Human Rights, the chief executive of the state agency responsible for enforcing New York’s Human Rights Law. She oversaw all agency operations in twelve offices across the state, including investigation and prosecution of discrimination complaints, settlements, public hearings, development of proposed legislation, public awareness campaigns and community outreach events.
Earlier in her career, Ms. Nyiendo served as the Deputy Special Counsel for Public Integrity in the Office of the Governor of the State of New York. She managed litigation matters and advanced racial justice initiatives, including review and recommendation of pardon and commutation applications by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
She served for eight years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, serving as Deputy Chief of the Narcotics Unit and then Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Unit. She was trial counsel on several federal criminal trials, including sex trafficking, forced labor, civil rights abuses committed by law enforcement officers, drug-related homicide and international narcotics conspiracies. She also conducted a weeks-long human trafficking training in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania for local law enforcement and advocacy groups. Ms. Nyiendo began her career as a litigation associate at Sidley Austin LLP.
Early in her career, Ms. Nyiendo clerked for the Honorable Theodore A. McKee, United States Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She also clerked for the Honorable George B. Daniels, United States District Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Ms. Nyiendo earned her B.A. from Harvard University and received her J.D. from Duke University School of Law.
Senior Design and Innovation Strategist
As the Senior Design and Innovation Strategist for the Innovation Lab, Isabelle Ohlson focuses on strategy, human-centered methods, user research, service design, and systems thinking.
Before joining Human Rights First, she worked for the UK’s Ministry of Justice where she helped build and lead a multidisciplinary team that used systems design and human-centered methods to improve outcomes for people in prison. She also worked on the rollout of video calling technology across the prison system so people in prison could communicate with their families during Covid-19.
Isabelle holds an MA in Service Design from the Royal College of Art, London, and a BA in Graphic Design from Kingston University, London.