Immigrant Justice Leadership Academy

HomeImmigrant Justice Leadership Academy


Colibrí Fellowship for DOJ Accreditation

The Colibrí Fellowship for DOJ Accreditation is open to immigrant serving nonprofits whether or not they are currently recognized by the DOJ.  Our goal is to train future non-attorney legal representatives to strengthen the capacity of community-based legal aid organizations.

Colibrís (hummingbirds) are the smallest long-distance migrating birds. The fellowship symbolizes an opportunity to uplift immigrant leadership, many of whom may otherwise not be able to access to the legal profession.

The fellowship seeks to:

  • Open the legal profession to Black, Brown and Immigrant communities
  • Increase the number of legal professionals particularly in areas outside of metro Chicago
  • Increase the number of bilingual and bicultural legal professionals


The activities and trainings agendas we put together are informed by our four pillars:

  1. Robust Technical & Legal Knowledge 
  2. Immigrant Justice
  3. Relationship Building
  4. Professional Growth


Fellows will participate in both virtual and in-person training components, including:  

  • Monthly in-person trainings at participating host organizations 
  • Two overnight retreats 
  • Group Mentorship sessions with experienced DOJ Representatives
  • Opportunities to shadow various immigrant legal service providers and get hands-on practice experience at legal clinics and workshops
  • Immigration Court observation (Full track) 
  • 1:1 consultation to prepare and review DOJ accreditation application


2023 Program Impact


Program Eligibility

The Colibrí Fellowship for DOJ Accreditation is open to immigrant serving nonprofits whether or not they are currently recognized by the DOJ. Organizations nominate individuals who plan to seek partial or full DOJ accreditation. Due to the unique training needed for full accreditation, the fellowship offers two course track options that run simultaneously, in addition to regular joint training and activities.

  1. Non-accredited individuals must plan to apply for partial accreditation (or full if individual has sufficient immigration law experience and training). Partially accredited individuals must plan to apply for full accreditation. All participants must submit applications within 6 months of their completion of the fellowship.
  2. Nominating organization must serve immigrants in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana.
  3. For organizations not yet recognized by the DOJ, the organization must commit to submitting both applications for recognition and Fellow’s application for accreditation within 6 months of their completion of the fellowship.


Application Process and Program Dates

Application for 2025 Cohort has now closed. Application for 2026 cohort will open in the Summer of 2025. If you would like to learn more about the fellowship and see if it is the right fit for you and your organization, please contact Lilia Escobar at [email protected]

Stay tuned as new fellows will be announced in August!

2025 Fellowship Program Dates

  • September 12 – 13, 2024 – In-person kickoff retreat
  • January 16-17, 2025 – In-person mid-year retreat
  • Monthly full-day in-person Friday sessions at participating host organizations
  • Weekly virtual one-hour class with Villanova University
  • Weekly VIISTA homework assignments
  • For full accreditation track – periodic court observation opportunities
  • June 6, 2025 – Fellowship Closing Celebration

Class of 2024


Alan Peters
Syrian Community Network
Full Accreditation Track
Alan Peters has been working at Director of Immigration at Syrian Community Network since 2017 and a DOJ partially accredited representative since 2019. He is devoted to the cause of refugees, asylees, and immigrants to the US generally. Before specializing in immigration legal services, his educational background was in linguistics. Languages remains one of his main interests; on any given day in his direct service of clients, he might find himself speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, or even, Dutch! He is excited to
apply for full accreditation so he can practice before the immigration courts
and expand SCN’s immigration services to include removal defense.
Alina del Rocio Gonzalez
Centro Romero
Full Accreditation Track
Alina del Rocio Gonzalez Rangel immigrated from Mexico two years ago. In Mexico, she worked as a lawyer, which had been a dream of hers since she was a young child. Her interest in helping others, especially those whose rights are not respected, led her to pursue a career in law. After obtaining a law degree, she wanted to give back to her hometown and began working in the government. Alina’s position allowed her to help those of
disadvantaged populations. When she arrived in the US, she knew she wanted to continue helping
others. She had to learn the language, and that is how she heard about Centro Romero.
Some of her passions are spending time with her wife and dogs, reading, reciting poetry, traveling, working at Centro
Romero, and working closer to the Chicago Immigrant Community.
Armando Cano Aguilar
Ascend Justice
Full Accreditation Track
Armando Cano is a partial DOJ Accredited Representative at Ascend Justice. He began his work in the Immigration field at Hana Center on April 2017, helping immigrants apply for citizenship, renewing their Legal Residents cards, and helping young people with the DACA process. He first became partially accreditation on December 2017. Later, in April 2019, Armando began working with Ascend Justice as an Intake Specialist until July 2021, when he was moved to his current position after getting his partial accreditation again. Armando is from Mexico City and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. Before working at Hana Center, he worked at the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago for 13 years as head of the Labor Affairs Area within the Department of Legal Affairs. His role as DOJ Accredited Representative at Ascend Justice is to help victims of domestic and gender-based violence to apply for immigration relief like a U Visa, VAWA, Battered Spouse Waiver, and Adjust of Status based on U Visa.
Brenda Salgado
Raise the Floor Alliance
Partial Accreditation Track
Brenda Salgado is a daughter of immigrant parents, she understands that many immigrant communities are often underserved. In her experience, language barrier is often a common challenge she sees in the immigrant community. As a child Brenda always found herself translating for my mother, and now in the work she does, she often translates legal concepts to her clients. As a bilingual speaker, Brenda seeks to facilitate some of the challenges folks encounter, and she hopes with the completion of this program she’d be able to contribute to closing the gap in the services available to immigrant communities.
Dezi Hasani
Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors
Full Accreditation Track
Dezi Hasani is someone who is deeply committed to advocating for immigrant families. Her journey from immigrating to this country, obtaining her LLM to pursuing a legal career while doing a job that she is passionate about, has been transformative, shaping her passion and dedication to this field. Dezi believes this fellowship will lead the way towards her dream of becoming a DOJ accredited representative. In the meantime she will continue to bear witness every day stories of culture, stories of identity, stories of survival, and stories of hope. Dezi believes she will be moved by the common bonds that unite them all.
Graciela Contreras
Northern Alliance for Immigrants
Partial Accreditation Track
Graciela Contreras founded Hispanic Ministry in 1990 at her home parish. She served the community by organizing the response to the immigrant needs of the community in the Northern Suburbs of Illinois. Her work experience includes corporate accounting; Hispanic Ministry Coordinator; Leadership development and formation; developer and founder of the Ministry of Self Development and Social Justice in 10 parishes throughout the Northern suburbs of Chicago, Graciela is currently the Executive Director of the Non-profit Northern Alliance for Immigrants which empowers immigrants of the Northern area of Illinois.
Jennifer Guadarrama
Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
Partial Accreditation Track
Jennifer Guadarrama is a dedicated professional with a passion for making a difference. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris in 2015. Jennifer joined Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS) as an intake specialist, where she has gained extensive experience working with people and providing invaluable support to those in need. Her commitment to her work and her community shines through in every endeavor.
Katerine Torres Martinez 
The Immigration Project
Partial Accreditation Track
Katerine Torres Martinez was born in Mexico City, Mexico, and was brought to the States when she was 2 years old. Coming from immigrant parents and being one herself, she always felt the pressure of having to succeed in life, so she received her associate in computer science and was pursuing her bachelor’s in cyber security. During this time, she worked for a non-profit that services the Latinx Community. Katerine realized how much she truly enjoys working with her community and those who need it the most. Katerine’s experience with scrambling for all the documents needed, completing her DACA, Permanent Resident, and Naturalization applications, attending the interviews and all the feelings that come with that has given her the desire to help others.
Kehinde Azeezat Abass
United African Organization
Partial Accreditation Track
Kehinde Azeezat Abass is a bachelor’s degree holder in agriculture who originated from Western Africa. Kehinde is an enthusiast who enjoys a dynamic atmosphere with creative and innovative minds. She currently works as an immigration case manager with the United African Organization. It is with great pleasure she accepts this privilege of being selected as one of the 2023-2024 Colibri Fellowship for DOJ Accreditation. Kehinde looks forward to a great learning experience.
LuzMarina Zacatzi
Illinois Migrant Council
Partial Accreditation Track
LuzMarina is a support program coordinator for the LULAC Google Certificate Program and Program Manager for the Illinois Migrant Council. She focuses on creating an inclusive community through programming, training, and creating strategic plans and partnerships with organizations. LuzMarina has had the opportunity to travel the world and work in diverse communities with Semester at Sea. She is from Chicago, Illinois, and in her spare time travels and spends time with her family and friends.
Mercedes Rodriguez 
Partners for Our Communities
Partial Accreditation Track
Mercedes Rodriguez is a recent graduate from Northeastern Illinois University. She completed her Bachelor’s in Justice Studies with a minor in Child Advocacy in December 2022. Her college courses and experience in the workplace have given her the understanding and compassion to assist people. In her current position, she supports staff and management using her strong oral and written communication skills. As an employee, she is a link between staff, customers, and management. She plans to use the skills and experience she has obtained to assist and help all. It has always been a dream of her’s to pursue a career in serving the community and the disadvantaged.
Miriam Cesia Figueroa
Youth and Family Center of McHenry County
Partial Accreditation Track
Miriam Figueroa is a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Nonprofit & NGO Studies from Northern Illinois University.
Currently, she works as a Bicultural Case Manager at the Youth and Family
Center of McHenry County (YFC), also known locally as ‘la escuelita’. Miriam works primarily as a
case manager for YFC’s community navigation program but also assists in program development for
YFC’s ESL courses and youth programming in which she has facilitated and advocated for an
effective cross-cultural response to the various needs of incoming immigrants
and refugees into the county. She also volunteers monthly as an interpreter at
Administer Justice legal clinics at her church. Miriam has a passion for languages,
advocacy, and mental health, and hopes to become a DOJ Accredited
Representative in order to develop YFC’s capacity to provide legal services and education to immigrants in her community.
Mohammad Asif Shirzai Khoshiwal
Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago
Partial Accreditation Track
Mohammad Asif Shirzai Khoshiwal works for the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago (ECAC) as Refugee Support Services (RSS) Lead Case Manager. Before coming to the U.S., he worked with the American Embassy in Kabul as an interpreter. Mohammad came to the U.S. through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) in September 2021. Shortly after, he started working as a volunteer for the Department of State as an interpreter for their legal team. There, he had the chance to work directly with attorneys, as well as participate in many legal webinars. He
began serving as a case worker. There he noticed it was hard to find affordable legal help for clients. Mohammad engaged in many intensive courses, where he learned about immigration law. He is looking forward to having engaging conversations with a group of passionate colleagues from this fellowship so that they can all fulfill this shared dream to serve immigrant communities and communities of color that remain in critical need of quality legal representation.
Palwasha Sanie
Children’s Legal Center
Full Accreditation Track
Palwasha Sanie is an Afghan Iranian who was born in India and immigrated to the USA about a year ago. Utilizing her language skills, she has been able to assist and advocate for those who may not have the same opportunities to communicate effectively in their new surroundings. Witnessing the impact of her assistance on their lives has been profoundly fulfilling, reinforcing her commitment to working with immigrant communities. In her work field with the Embassies in Iran, she worked with the Immigration department for about 10 years. She currently works
at the Children’s Legal Center as a law clerk.
Rapeepat “Rachel” Kumpichai
Vietnamese Association of Illinois
Full Accreditation Track
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Rachel’s lifelong passion for justice motivated her to enter the legal profession. She obtained a Master of Law in the United States, as a result of her commitment to excellence and prior legal experience. After graduation, she joined the Vietnamese Association as an Immigration Services Lead, where she utilized her legal proficiency to community needs. By assisting community members with immigration processes, Rachel fosters empowerment while embracing the richness of diverse cultures.
Shamsullah Hamidi
North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic
Partial Accreditation Track
Shamsullah immigrated to the United States after serving as an interpreter for the US Army and International forces in Afghanistan, where he provided critical support and communication services in a complex and challenging environment. After that, he started a business supplying food and essential materials to the US Army and companies affiliated with supporting the US Mission in Afghanistan. In 2017 he immigrated to the US while going back to Afghanistan every couple of months to take care of the business, until 2021 after the fall of the country, he moved permanently to the U.S. He worked with Muslim Women’s Resource Center providing interpretation and translation for Asylum seekers. In January 2023, he joined NSLAC where he is grateful for working in such an environment and learning.
Sohee Kim
HANA Center
Partial Accreditation Track
Sohee Kim is a New Americans Team lead at HANA Center. Sohee was originally from South Korea and moved to the U.S. in 2006. She lived in Texas and Pennsylvania for her studies and currently lives in Chicago. Sohee studied Political Science and earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration. Her various experiences gave her an opportunity to ponder the key issues of diversity, equity, and justice that immigrant communities face today.
Yudaisy Pascual 
Farmworker Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP)
Partial Accreditation Track
Yudaisy Pascual is a Bilingual Paralegal at FLAP. She holds a law degree and master’s degree in Corporate Law in her home country, Venezuela as well as a Business Negotiation Certificate from Harvard University. Before she was forced to move to the US due to the ongoing socioeconomic and political crisis in Venezuela, she gained valuable experience working over 10 years as a Corporate and International attorney at a National Petroleum company. Prior to joining FLAP, she worked as a case manager in a legal office in Chicago, where she connected with low-wage Latinx who needed representation with immigration, criminal defense, traffic, and family law issues. Currently, she lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is planning to return to school to obtain her Juris Doctor degree. In her free time, she supports immigrant professionals in rebuilding their careers in the US.

Class of 2023

Aida Estela Pino Quizhpi
HANA Center
Partial Accreditation Track
Ana Cristina Chávez Andonie
Legal Aid Chicago
Full Accreditation Track
Andrea Escobar
Western Illinois DREAMers
Partial Accreditation Track
Ashley Santos
Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors
Partial Accreditation Track
David A. Flores
Spanish Community Center
Partial Accreditation Track
Denisse Adriana Arango Moreno
Jewish Child & Family Services (HIAS)
Partial Accreditation Track
Jaihoon Amiri
Muslim Women Resource Center
Partial Accreditation Track
Jessica Mendez
Binational Institute of Human Development
Partial Accreditation Track
Liza Gutierrez
Partners for Our Communities
Partial Accreditation Track
Lizbet Zavala
Erie Neighborhood House
Full Accreditation Track
Manissan Karamoko
United African Organization
Full Accreditation Track
Maria Del Rosario Salgado Ortiz
Centro Romero
Full Accreditation Track
Marina Maric
North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic
Partial Accreditation Track
Martha M. Armenta-Robles
Enlace Chicago
Partial Accreditation Track
Monica Alvarez
The Resurrection Project
Full Accreditation Track
Ngoc Le
Vietnamese Association of Chicago
Partial Accreditation Track
Olga Patricia Guerrero Gonzalez
National Immigrant Justice Center
Full Accreditation Track
Salek Khalid
Indo-American Center
Partial Accreditation Track
Sergio Casillas Vazquez
The Immigration Project
Partial Accreditation Track
Yessenia Guadalupe Cairo
Chicago Workers Collaborative
Partial Accreditation Track
Zulairam Iracema Toro Rodriguez
Centro Romero
Partial Accreditation Track

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the eligibility requirements for DOJ accreditation?

Eligibility requirements are found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 1292.11–1292.20, which include demonstrating that the individual:

  • Has the character and fitness to represent clients before DHS and/or EOIR;
  • Is employed by or is a volunteer of the organization;
  • Is not an attorney, as defined by 8 C.F.R. § 1001.1(f);
  • Has not resigned while a disciplinary investigation or proceeding is pending or is the subject of an order restricting the individual in the practice of law;
  • Has not been found guilty of, or pleaded guilty to, a serious crime; and
  • Possesses broad knowledge and adequate experience in immigration law and procedure.

Can organizations who do not currently have a legal services program participate?

Yes. Organizations should either have existing legal service programs or be looking to develop their legal services within the next year and will be expected to apply for DOJ recognition and the Fellow’s DOJ accreditation within 6 months following the completion of the Fellowship.

What is the difference between the partial and full track?

Partial accreditation allows non-attorneys to represent immigrants before USCIS in affirmative cases.

Full accreditation allows non-attorneys to represent immigrants before USCIS and EOIR (the Immigration Court) for both affirmative and defensive cases.

Both tracks will have opportunities to learn jointly, while completing coursework specific to their track. The partial track will focus on immigration law and knowledge needed for affirmative representation and individuals new to the immigration legal field. Full track participants are expected to already have base knowledge and experience in immigration; Full track training will focus on the skills needed to represent immigrants in court.

Click here for more information on DOJ accreditation and recognition program.

Can someone who has already applied for accreditation apply for the fellowship?

If you apply for partial DOJ Accreditation before the start of the fellowship, then you may only apply to participate in the full track. However, if the individual does not have substantial experience in immigration legal services, we recommend that they defer from applying that year so they may get experience as a partially accredited representative before beginning to work toward full accreditation.

I plan to attend law school or take the bar and am seeking accreditation in order to practice law in the meantime, is this fellowship a good fit for me?

We would not recommend the fellowship for someone in this position. The program was designed to strengthen the legal profession for individuals for whom law school is not accessible or not something that they want to do.

I am an Executive Director (or I do not do client-facing work) but I would like to launch a legal clinic at my organization, should I apply for the fellowship?

This fellowship is a program for training legal representatives and is designed for individuals who will provide direct services. We do not recommend this program to individuals who will not be providing services. If you are looking for support in creating a legal clinic, please refer to our Learning Labs program.

Can an organization nominate more than one individual for the Fellowship?

An organization can nominate more than one individual for the fellowship; however, spots are limited in the program.

Is there a fee to participate in the Fellowship?

No, there is no cost to participate. The program will cover meals at all in-person sessions and lodging for overnight retreats.

More information
For more information, please contact Rocío Pulido,  Senior Program Manager, Immigrant Justice Leadership Academy at [email protected].

Funding for the Colibrí Fellowship provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Office of Welcoming Centers for Refugee and Immigrant Services, the Lawyers Trust Fund, and Abundant Futures.