Deportation Defense Unit

Deportation Defense Unit



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.


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.


Legal Representatives

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 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.

Raymundo Aguilar 

Law Grad, 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

Law Grad, 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

Support Staff  

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. 


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.

Sandra Lopez Perez

 Paralegal, 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.

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.  

Tessla Cerrato

Paralegal, 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.