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Deportation Defense Unit

Deportation Defense Unit

213-385-7800

Leadership

Lilit Melkonyan

Managing Attorney, Los Angeles x223

Lilit is an Armenian Immigrant. Lilit’s journey to becoming an immigration attorney began, when she enrolled in ESL classes soon after arriving in the U.S. in 2003. Ultimately, Lilit graduated from Glendale University College of Law with High Honors in May 2017. While in law school, Lilit volunteered as a law clerk for the LA County Public Defender’s office. Lilit joined CARECEN’s Deportation Defense Units in March 2018. Her work at CARECEN has primarily focused on representing Unaccompanied Minors in removal proceedings. Beside work, Lilit enjoys spending time with her family, cooking delicious food and swimming.

 

Ruth Calvillo

Managing Attorney, San Bernardino x161

Ruth was born and raised in Los Angeles to a single, immigrant mother from Guatemala. Her work at CARECEN has focused on the representation of individuals detained by ICE. Prior to working at CARECEN, Ruth worked as a Staff Attorney at The Young Center advocating for the best interest of children in ORR custody. Ruth also previously worked as an attorney for a private law firm where she represented individuals in a variety of immigration matters. Ruth graduated from The University of Tulsa College of Law in 2016 and from Claremont McKenna College with a bachelor's degree in Psychology in 2011. When she is not working, she enjoys discovering new things to do in the Inland Empire with her family.  

 

Emily Kyle

Supervising Attorney, San Bernardino x230

Emily is a supervising attorney based out of CARECEN’s San Bernardino office. Prior to joining CARECEN, Emily worked as a staff attorney with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. She earned her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and her undergraduate degree from UCLA. Emily has dedicated her career to defending the rights of immigrants and believes that every person facing removal proceedings deserves the right to free, high-quality legal representation. Emily loves traveling and experiencing diverse cultures, and she has spent time living in Italy, Japan, and South Africa. In her free time, Emily enjoys cooking, hiking, reading, and spending time with her family.

 

 

 

Legal Representatives

Angelica Segura  

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x269 

Angélica was born and raised in California and is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. She graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a degree in International and Global Studies which allowed her to study abroad in Beijing, China. In 2022 Angélica earned her J.D. from Southwestern Law School as part of the accelerated two-year J.D. program known as “SCALE”. During law school, Angélica was a summer clerk with the Children’s Law Center and a campaign intern during the 2022 LA Mayoral Race. 

Prior to joining CARECEN, Angélica worked as an immigration paralegal at private law firms in South Florida and the Greater Los Angeles area. Such experiences have fostered her strong commitment to public service. Now she hopes to continue to give back to her community as a practicing attorney. 

Brenda Guzman  

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x270  

Brenda Guzman is a Staff Attorney at the Los Angeles office. She was born and raised in L.A. and is the daughter of Zapotec immigrants from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Stanford University. Brenda’s commitment to immigrant advocacy first began while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), where she organized and ran a variety of legal clinics. These legal clinics gave her a first-hand look into the needs of immigrant communities, as well as the resources and mobilization efforts required to provide immigrant communities with zealous legal advocacy and representation. Brenda remained at CLSEPA as a paralegal until she left to attend UC Law, San Francisco (formerly known as UC Hastings). Prior to joining CARECEN, she worked with Immigrant Legal Defense in Oakland, California representing unaccompanied minors in their removal defense matters. In her personal time, Brenda enjoys spending time with her loved ones and exploring Los Angeles. 

 

Christopher Perez

Staff Attorney, San Bernardino x178

Chris is a Staff Attorney based out of our San Bernardino office. He represents both detained and non-detained clients going through deportation proceedings. Prior to joining CARECEN, Chris was a Law Clerk for the Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic at Loyola Law School where he represented individuals serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. Chris earned his law degree from Loyola Law School and received his B.A. in Government from Cornell University. Chris is a proud born and raised New Yorker. When Chris is not working for his clients, he is waking up early on weekends to watch the English Premier League and slowly building a vinyl collection.  

 

Christopher Peterson

 Senior Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x212 

Christopher Peterson is a staff attorney at CARECEN and mainly represents unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings seeking humanitarian forms of relief. Additionally, as part of CARECEN’s Deportation Defense Unit, he has taken on adult cases and has volunteered serving migrants in transit at the San Ysidro-Tijuana Border. Prior to joining CARECEN, Christopher dedicated his law school career to advocating for the immigrant community through Loyola’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, which gave him the opportunity to represent immigrants in removal proceedings in El Paso, Texas. Christopher has also engaged in local advocacy efforts with the Urban Peace Institute, where he explored ways to mitigate the immigration consequences caused by the indiscriminate use of gang databases. Christopher’s passion to serve the immigrant community arose from his experience growing up in the diverse community of Los Angeles. 

 

Evelyn Bonilla

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x067

Evelyn is a Staff Attorney at the Los Angeles office. She started at CARECEN with the Survivors of Violence Unit, working with survivors of violence and now splits her time with the Deportation Defense Unit, representing unaccompanied minors. Evelyn earned her law degree from University of La Verne, where she had the opportunity to intern at the Public Defenders of San Bernardino. While there, she had the opportunity to write motions and be on the defense team for a murder trial. She also interned at CARECEN on the Family based team while she was in law school. Evelyn received her B.A. in Political Science and Anthropology from UCLA. On her free time, Evelyn enjoys spending time with her family especially her nephew, doing 700+ piece puzzles and finding new interesting restaurants.

Hannah Kazim

Supervising Attorney, Los Angeles x148

Hannah was raised in Costa Rica, Peru, and Mexico, and attended UC Santa Barbara before settling in Long Beach in 2010. She taught middle school for four years, receiving a Masters in Special Education from LMU in 2012. She attended Pepperdine School of Law, during which time she interned at various legal organizations (including CARECEN!) that helped her find and narrow down a passion for advocating for kids and families in immigration proceedings. After graduating in 2017, she clerked for two years at the Los Angeles immigration court, before joining the CARECEN DDU. Hannah loves her job, her team, and most of all, her clients. When she’s not fighting for them, you’ll find her searching for the world’s best Reuben sandwich, or hanging with her pandemic pup, Soledad.

Raymundo Aguilar 

 OLAP Accredited Representative (Full), San Bernardino x203 

Raymundo was born and raised in Orange County, CA and is the proud son of Mexican immigrants. He studied Philosophy and Spanish at UC Santa Barbara and received his bachelor’s degree in 2018. After his undergraduate studies, Raymundo attended law school in San Diego at California Western School of Law. During law school, Raymundo pursued immigration-related internships. His first immigration internship was with Al Otro Lado (AOL) where he primarily worked with detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. He then joined his law school’s ACCESS Clinic which focused on helping immigrant victims of domestic violence. Raymundo went on to work at a private immigration office in downtown San Diego where he worked on both family-based petitions and business-immigration matters. Raymundo believes his commitment to helping immigrants is a commitment towards helping the country prosper. Raymundo spends his spare time reading non-fiction, watching good movies, and listening to music.

 

Rosa Tovar

 OLAP Accredited Representative (Full), Los Angeles Ext. 063

Rosa grew up in Los Angeles and is the proud daughter of Salvadoran and Mexican immigrants. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Music from UCLA and a JD from UC Hastings College of the Law. Prior to law school, she worked at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, where she provided direct services to unaccompanied children and other vulnerable immigrant populations. During law school, Rosa was an immigrant justice intern with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, helping asylum seekers and families harmed by family separation at the border. She also participated in UC Hastings’ Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, where she worked closely with a Guatemalan human rights lawyer on an expert affidavit to support the asylum claims of Guatemalan women and girls. In her downtime, Rosa enjoys playing the piano and guitar, seeing live music, and going on long hikes with her pup, Olive. 

Social Services Staff

Karen Luis Barrondo

Case Manager, Los Angeles x095

Karen is a proud Guatemalan immigrant. She immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of sixteen. While attending high school, she faced many challenges due to her language barrier, and as she became proficient in English, she implemented an after-school program to support her recently arrived peers to overcome many challenges she had faced before. She graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. Before joining the Deportation Defense Unit at CARECEN, she worked at LIFT-LA supporting immigrants, mostly undocumented women in coaching them to achieve career, financial and educational goals while providing them social services to enable them to succeed in their goals. Now, she works as a Case Manager for unaccompanied children at DDU. She is a true God believer, enjoys going out with her family and friends, and loves discovering unfamiliar places in all of Southern California. 

 

Katherine Ayon-Sosa

Social Worker, San Bernardino x220

Katherine received her master's degree in Social Work and bachelor's degree in Community Advocacy and Social Policy at Arizona State University. Katherine is a first-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to receive a graduate degree. Katherine’s passions include listening to music, being outdoors, and enjoying culturally diverse food and art. Katherine’s professional background includes services to foster youth, LGBTQIA+ persons, persons in the Criminal Justice System, human trafficking and domestic violence survivors, as well as individuals facing complex health diagnoses. Katherine believes in the power of a person. With integrity for her work, service, social justice, dignity, and worth of persons, she believes transitioning into services will help individuals grow, heal and begin the next chapter of their life.

“You must be a lotus, unfolding its petals when the sun rises in the sky, unaffected by the slush where it is born or even the water which sustains it.”                                  

- Sai Baba

Tessla 

OPAL Accredited Representative , Los Angeles x224 

Tessla was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA to Honduran parents. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with a BA degree in Government & French in 2016. As an undergraduate, she volunteered in filing IRS tax returns for low-income families, translating immigration related documents with the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), and worked as an intern at the Human Rights League in Paris, France while studying abroad. After graduation, she gained experience as a legal intern/receptionist and as a legal assistant in business immigration such as permanent labor certifications and family-based/employment-based applications. Because of her family’s background, Tessla is committed to grow professionally within the immigration legal field and to help the Latinx community. In her free time, she enjoys early morning walks at the beach, watching scary movies, and drinking a glass of wine.

Support Staff  

Andrew Monterroso

DDU Paralegal – (213) 385-7800 x707

Andrew is a DDU Paralegal at the Los Angeles Office. He was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and is the son of Guatemalan and Honduran parents. Andrew received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California–Irvine in History and Criminology, Law, and Society. He graduated in June of 2023 and began working at the CARECEN Los Angeles Office in July as a Temporary Protected Status Clerk (TPS Clerk). In October of 2023, Andrew became a paralegal with the Deportation Defense Unit team (DDU team). His goal is to work as a paralegal for a few years and learn all he can, to then apply for law school and pursue a law degree. Once he has that JD, Andrew has plans to continue working for the immigrant community and the overall Los Angeles community as an attorney.

Denise Barragan- Herrera 

Data Management Assistant/Office Coordinator, San Bernardino x268 

Denise was born and raised in San Bernardino, CA to Mexican parents. She attended the University of California, Davis attaining a Bachelor's Degree in Chicano/a Studies, complemented by a minor in Native American studies. During her educational journey, she was enrolled in a wide range of ethnic studies courses, which ignited a passion for fostering inclusivity and support for diverse cultural communities. Her proudest personal achievement was creating an empowering Print for MILPA and the Zapotec community, that served to promote healing and awareness regarding the tragic death of Gerardo Martinez Chavez– an Indigenous Zapotec individual who fell victim to a language barrier with the police. Prior to CARECEN, she has had a variety of experiences in customer service. During her personal time, she enjoys hanging out with friends and going to concerts.  

Esther Morales

Paralegal, Los Angeles x184

Esther was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA to Nicaraguan and Salvadoran parents. She has traveled multiple times to Central America throughout her younger years and discovered a passion for her culture and helping the immigrant community. She graduated Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) with a BS in Criminal Justice Administration. She has volunteered in Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, Los Angeles Mission in Skid Row and CARECEN in previous years. She has worked in the Survivor’s of Violence Unit (SVU) , being the first point of contact for victims and has assisted them with consultations. She is currently working in the DDU hoping to help as much others as she can so they can experience a better life. For her, to be someone who can help the immigrant community is something to be very proud of.  Esther enjoys reading, writing, trying new food places and spending time outdoors with nature (preferably the beach) and her family. 

Kenya Del Toro  

Paralegal, Los Angeles x264 

Kenya was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and is the proud first-generation daughter of Mexican immigrants. She studied Sociology and Public Administration at California State University, Long Beach and received her bachelor’s degree in 2019. Kenya has worked with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Human Rights First, Esperanza, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, where she fueled her passion to help underserved populations through the public interest and non-profit sector. After her undergraduate studies, she attended UCLA Extension and obtained her ABA-Approved Paralegal Certificate.Because of her roots and family’s background, Kenya is committed to help the immigrant community have a voice in society and the legal/court system. She spends her spare time creating jewelry, thrifting, creating art, studying sociology/psychology/fashion, and rewatching the Office. 

 

Monica Leon 

Lead Paralegal, San Bernardino x202

At the age of two, Monica emigrated from Peru and moved to Southern California with her family. Her personal immigration history inspired a career in public policy and law. At CARECEN, Monica assists detained migrants and children in ORR custody by connecting them to resources in the Inland Empire and the greater Los Angeles area. She also provides CARECEN clients with additional support in their immigration cases and a safe space to express questions and concerns. Monica graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Sociology in 2018. As an undergraduate, she worked with local migrant communities and political leaders in Philadelphia, Spain, China, and Greece to advocate for migrant rights and research the underlying patterns of modern displacement. Monica loves listening to podcasts, traveling, and making many trips to the beach. 

 

Samantha Pineda 

Data Management Assistant, Los Angeles  x219 

Samantha was born and raised in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown to refugee parents from El Salvador.  Prior to joining DDU, she served as Co-Director/Program Coordinator with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), a non-profit grassroots organization that provides accompaniment to social movement organizations fighting for social and economic justice in El Salvador. She earned her Bachelor’s in Feminist Studies and Latin American Latino Studies from UC Santa Cruz with a specialization in Central American feminism, youth activism, and social change. During her personal time, Sam likes to learn new crafts, listen to music, and spend time with her loved ones.

Thais Rodriguez

Paralegal, San Bernardino x064 

Thais Rodriguez is one of the DDU Legal Assistant for the San Bernardino office. She recently graduated from the School of Foreign Service (SFS) with a Bachelor's of Science in Foreign Service (BSBF) studying Culture and Politics with a theme in Immigration. After college, she did a pre-law internship program called Sonia & Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program (SCSJIP) where she interned for two Kings County judges in New York and participated in an LSAT boot camp for the summer. Thais recently completed a semester internship with Al Otro Lado (AOL) as AOL’s Lead Attorney’s intern where she worked on humanitarian parole and litigation cases. She grew up in Pomona, California where her love for social justice and politics emerged from student walkouts, protests, and extensive board meetings with the Pomona Council and the PUSD district. At Georgetown, Thais was the Alternative Break Program Kino Border Immersion Co-leader and the Publicity coordinator for Hoya Saxa Weekend. She was also formally a Program Coordinator for the D.C. Schools Project at the Center for Social Justice (CSJ). Thais is mostly focused on the ties between gender, migration, and law through her work with DMV detention centers and migrant justice community efforts in Southern California.  

 

Stephanie Medina 

Paralegal, Los Angeles x274  

Stephanie Medina immigrated to the United States at the age of six from Oaxaca, Mexico. Since an early age Stephanie has been passionate about human rights justice. She double majored in Legal Studies and Politics with a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. During her undergraduate career Stephanie balanced different internships and jobs. As part of the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Internship Program, she interned at the Undocumented Student Services Office, where she helped create spaces for undocumented students. After graduating college, she worked as a Paralegal in the Removal Defense Unit for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. During her free time Stephanie likes to attend music events, try new food, and spend time with her two cats.  

Yessenia Duran  

Paralegal, San Bernardino x267 

Yessenia Duran was born in Bellflower, California. She graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a BA degree in Latino/Latin American Studies. Prior to Yessenia joining the DDU team, she has been working with the Immigrant Legal Center (ILC) as the Access Coordinator. Within her time at ILC, she developed and strengthened the Nebraska Immigration Legal Assistance Hotline intake processes. Yessenia aspires to continue to grow her knowledge to best assist the immigrant communities. Yessenia enjoys spending quality time with her family and getting to travel whenever possible.