Deportation Defense Unit


Managing Attorneys


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.  


Staff Attorneys

Hannah Kazim

Senior Staff 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.


Christina Avalos

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x232 

Christina is a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants who has dedicated her life to social justice. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Christina worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). While attending UCLA Law, she specialized in Critical Race Studies and Public Interest Law & Policy. Christina interned and volunteered with organizations such as the CARA Pro Bono Project, Centro Legal de la Raza, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Al Otro Lado, and the Los Angeles County Public Defender-Immigration Unit. Prior to joining CARECEN, Christina completed a Skadden Fellowship at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), where she represented both detained and non-detained immigrants in their removal proceedings. When she is not calling for the abolition of migrant detention centers, Christina enjoys mentoring underrepresented folks applying to law school and she serves on the Board of California Change Lawyers. She also likes spending time with her nieces, nephews, and cats, going to concerts, dancing, biking, hiking, camping, and traveling.


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

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x212 

Christopher Peterson is a staff attorney at CARECEN and dedicates himself to representing unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings, specializing in 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 own personal experience growing up in the diverse community of Los Angeles. In his free time, he enjoys soccer and poetry.


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.


Jocelyn Velazquez

Staff Attorney, San Bernardino x105

Jocelyn is a Staff Attorney based out of our San Bernardino office. She primarily represents unaccompanied minors. Prior to joining CARECEN, Jocelyn was a LOP Staff Attorney at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project where she conducted “Know Your Rights” presentations and advocated on behalf of pro se detainees in Adelanto. She also represented detainees before EOIR. Jocelyn earned her law degree from UC Hastings, where she participated in the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic and represented an asylum seeker. She also interned at Immigration Institute of the Bay Area, Esperanza, and Legal Services for Children. Jocelyn received her B.A. in Sociology at UC Irvine. On her free time, Jocelyn enjoys going on hikes with her husband and furry companion, Clyde. She is hoping to adopt a Bonnie in the near future.  


Maria Zavaleta

Staff Attorney, Los Angeles x063

In 2000, 7-year-old Maria migrated with her mother from El Salvador to the U.S., seeking a better life. A year later, her older half-brother was granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Maria traces her passion for the law to her fight to help her brother retain his legal status after the Trump administration ended the TPS program for immigrants from El Salvador. Maria was a Dean’s Scholarship recipient at the University of San Francisco School of Law. She worked as a summer law clerk for the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office and was a student advocate with the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic. Maria received her B.A. in Criminology, Law and Society and Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine. On her free time, she enjoys hiking and the beach.

Support Staff  


Byron Lainez

Legal Asst., Los Angeles x120

Born and raised in Pico-Union and the son of Salvadoran Civil War refugees, Byron is committed to serving and uplifting his community. From his family's experience and receiving a B.A. in International Relations from UC Davis ('15), Byron understands how people are affected and displaced by individuals, governments, and foreign policy. He has been at CARECEN for almost six years and has worked with migrant children and youth. Working with this population, he has witnessed how they are affected and villainized by the U.S. immigration system and the hardships that come with situating themselves in a new country in the backdrop of a volatile and often hostile political environment. This inspired Byron to pursue and earn an M.A. in Teaching from USC ('21) because school is the first place in which many of these children and youth experience the realities of living in a new country, in addition to an education system that is not adequately equipped to ensure their success and address their needs. In his free time, Byron enjoys spending time with his cat Whiskey, playing video games, trying out new food, and watching history and paranormal documentaries. He is also an avid technology aficionado and always has to have the latest in tech.


Daniel Palafox

Legal Asst., San Bernardino x186

Growing up in a vibrant immigrant community in the Inland Empire, Daniel understood the value of diversity and servitude to his community. As a First-Generation American, he’s strived throughout much of his professional and academic career to advance social progress. Daniel graduated from the University of California at Irvine with degrees in Urban Studies and Criminology. He’s worked with non-profits in South Africa and Orange County centered on youth development and volunteer work. Now at CARECEN, Daniel assists clients in a variety of deportation defense claims. In his free time, he enjoys going on hikes, trying new foods and travelling.


Joselin Medina

Data Management Asst., Los Angeles x219

Joselin Medina is the Data Management Assistant at CARECEN for DDU. She was born in South Central LA as first gen Guatemalan/Salvadoran and oldest sibling out of 4. Her father was almost deported 2 weeks before her Quinceanera, but luckily was able to remain here. This experience made her help out her community. She attended Chico State University with a double major of Psychology/Media Arts and got involved in leadership and mentoring positions in order to help others. She became the founder of the first ever Central American organization at CSUC called CAFÉ (Central Americans for Empowerment). She advocated for Central American students to learn about their history, cultures, politics and providing a safe space. In her free time Joselin enjoys to do anything media and look into her family’s ancestry and how far back she can go.


Julio Rodriguez

Legal Asst., San Bernardino x064


Leticia Morales

OLAP Accredited Rep, Los Angeles x216


Marcela Quiju

Legal Asst., Los Angeles x184


Monica Leon

Legal Asst., 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. 


Sandra Lopez Perez

Legal Asst., Los Angeles x181

Sandra immigrated from Totonicapán, Guatemala to Los Angeles, CA at the age of seven. Although a DACA recipient, Sandra knows that a lawful legal status can provide more opportunities. In high school for instance, she was unable to qualify for certain scholarships. During undergrad, she was not eligible for as many loans as her peers which then prompted her into finishing her undergraduate studies in three years instead of the usual four years. While earning her Political Science degree at the University of California, Merced, Sandra learned more about the circumstances in which so many like herself are forced to migrate out of their homelands. Through her own experience and education, Sandra has committed herself to serve and uplift individuals like herself.  Before starting at CARECEN, Sandra tutored her newly arrived immigrant classmates and mentored incoming undocumented freshmen at the University of California, Merced.


Vanessa Goyes

Legal Asst., Los Angeles x218

Vanessa immigrated from Ecuador to New York alongside her immediate family when she was four years old. Growing up as a first-generation immigrant, she became passionate about working with Long Island non-profits and volunteering on her spare time. Vanessa earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh with a dual degree in Environmental Science and Political Science. At Pitt, she participated in microbiology and psychology research for three years where she realized she was actually passionate about environmental and immigration policy and law. She continued on to intern at a non-profit environmental law firm where she realized that her experiences as an immigrant meant she wanted to work and serve the Latinx community. Vanessa was then able to serve as an Americorps Adult English Instructor in Pittsburgh's Latino Community Center before moving to Los Angeles. On her spare time, Vanessa enjoys hiking or tending to her plants. She also enjoys spending time with her cat Canelo.