Our Staff

The LatinoJustice PRLDEF staff is dedicated to the work of protecting the rights of Latinos. Interested in joining our staff as an intern? Click here.

Juan Cartagena
President and General Counsel

David Ayala is a Community Organizer at LatinoJustice PRLDEF for the Southeast Office. He is focused on campaigns around the criminal justice system. David is a native of Brooklyn, NY was raised by his Spanish speaking mother. Needing to survive the English speaking inner city, he became bilingual and bicultural as both Puerto Rican and African American. Considered an at risked youth at the age of 12 David entered the revolving doors of the criminal justice system.

It all came to an end and his new life began at the age of 33. Eleven years later David has turned his life completely around with an Associates of Arts degree in Business Administration from Valencia Community College, enroute to his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Central Florida where his focus has been business administration and legal studies.

Since 2006 David has been unwavering in his focus on his spiritual, personal and professional development. From working as a personal fitness trainer certified by International Sports Sciences Association in fitness training, sports nutrition, and exercise therapy to working for a Fortune 500 company with top sales experience, David has evolved and is now committed to public service and community outreach. He is the founder and President of Reach Teach Save an organization that provides pathways for at risk individuals toward education and professional success He also serves as the President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Central Florida Chapter, an organization that is highly dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination of people with conviction. He is the Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee for the Orange County Branch NAACP and works collaboratively with community organizations and organizers.

He is an active member of his church Rejoice in the Lord Ministries. He is happily married to his wife of seven years Aramis Ayala, and a proud father to their two daughters Aliyah and Alanah. While he has a passion to advocate for criminal justice reform what he enjoys during his free time are movies, traveling, and simple quality time with his family.

Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is an Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, focusing on working with low-wage Latina immigrant workers as part of the organization’s economic justice platform, legal support in the face of the economic crisis in Puerto Rico and human rights advocacy before regional and international bodies. Natasha has worked on gender and racial justice issues, including access to reproductive health, sexual violence and violence against women in conflict zones. Prior to joining LatinoJustice PRLDEF, she worked in the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at CUNY School of Law and the Center for Reproductive Rights. She clerked for the Hon. Ronald L. Ellis in the Southern District of New York and was an Ella Baker Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Natasha graduated from CUNY School of Law, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the CUNY Law Review and a Fellow at the Center for Latino/a Rights and Equality.

Natasha is President of the National Lawyers Guild, the nation's largest and oldest progressive bar association, and Co-Chairs its Subcommittee on Puerto Rico. She is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force on Puerto Rico and Inter-American Affairs Committee and is a board member of MADRE. Natasha is barred in New York and New Jersey.

Jackson Chin is a Senior Counsel and litigates on a broad range of civil rights issues, including, employment and labor laws, education, elections, voting rights and immigrant rights. He was trial counsel in a precedent-setting lawsuit (Lozano v. City of Hazleton); he has obtained over $575,000 for Latino clients in English-Only language and Title VII employment discrimination cases. Recent accomplishments include overhauling New Jersey State Education Department’s identification documents policy on adult education enrollment and test administration, obtaining the Governor of Washington State’s rare commutation and early release of a Latino inmate, prevailing and obtaining attorneys’ fees in a Congressional redistricting lawsuit (Favors v. Cuomo), conducting Title VI language rights and immigrant health access workshops to over 90 community advocates.

Before joining LatinoJustice in 2000, he was Safe Horizon’s Director and Supervising Attorney in its Immigration Law Project serving several hundred clients and asylum seekers of many nationalities in immigration courts. His expertise in gender-based immigration law won asylum relief from deportation for a Mexican female survivor of incest and spousal abuse despite the controversial Matter of R-A pending review at the U.S. Attorney General.

He has also been a staff lawyer at The Legal Aid Society of New York, The Center for Immigrants Rights, Chinese Staff & Workers Association / Chinatown Immigrant Rights Project, and, the New York City Commission on Human Rights. With proficiencies in written and spoken Chinese (3 dialects), French and Spanish, and an appetite for wonder and empathy, he strives to anchor learning and hope in this world. His law career resonates in tribute to his immigrant parents.

Lydiette Diaz is the Executive Assistant to the President and General Counsel. A native of Puerto Rico, Lydiette has always had a profound interest in the Latino community and the Latino experience within and beyond the borders of the United States. She received her BA from Rutgers University, where she double majored in Political Science and Hispanic Caribbean Studies.

Lydiette also has a MA from the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. Her concentrations included Latin America, Human Rights and International Law, and her master’s research project focused on the effects of conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil.

Lydiette previously worked as an Assistant to the Dean of International Programs and Special Projects at Seton Hall University’s School of Law. Additionally, Lydiette has worked as a paralegal and as an intern at the International Institute of New Jersey, where she witnessed first-hand the challenges of immigrants in the United States. These experiences led her to LatinoJustice PRLDEF where she hopes to further the mission of protecting the rights of all Latinos.

John Garcia is the Director of Communications and Redistricting Manager for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Before joining LatinoJustice, John was a VP, Content and Programming, for NBC Television Stations, Interactive. He also served as an Integration Leader for NBC/Telemundo and as an Executive Producer for WNBC. John also served as the Executive Producer of NewsChannel4.Com and for MSNBC on the Internet.

John joined NBC from New York University, where he served as Director of Digital Journalism in the Department of Journalism. Before that, he was a reporter for the New York Daily News, Miami Herald, Miami News, Gannet Westchester Newspapers, and several other newspapers and magazines.

John is a native of New York City’s Lower East Side and a graduate of Hunter College. He is the author of Hispanic Magazine, a book about magazine publishing, and is a former National Racquetball Champion.

Marisabel Kanioros-Abbas is the Senior Legal Assistant for LatinoJustice PRLDEF where she supports the Associate General Counsel and the Legal Division Attorneys since 2006. She also coordinates and handles hundreds of client matters and public inquiries received at LatinoJustice by providing bilingual legal information, general advice and referrals. Often, Latino callers seek advice and information regarding issues of job discrimination, wage theft, housing, immigration and access to social services. Moreover, she helps to draft documents and outreach materials, makes translations and interprets for legal staff & clients and fulfills other administrative responsibilities. She also gives supervision and training to high school volunteers.

Marisabel has worked over 21 years in the immigrant services sector, including prior employment at Catholic Charities of New York Community Services-Administrative Services as a Support Services Supervisor and at Safe Horizon org. as an Office Manager for the departments of Domestic Violence, Immigration, Immigration Hotline, Refugees and Education. She does community volunteer work, for CUNY Citizenship and the N.Y. Daily News Citizenship NOW events as well Election Protection Project VE y VOTA.

Alan Levine , a civil rights and constitutional lawyer, began his legal career on Wall Street, from which he took a leave of absence during the Freedom Summer of 1964 to represent civil rights activists in Alabama and Mississippi. That fall he resigned from his law firm to continue doing civil rights work in the south, then returned to NYC where he worked as a New York Civil Liberties Union staff lawyer for the next 13 years. During that time, he directed NYCLU's students' rights project, co-authored the book, The Rights of Students, and litigated cases, including in the US Supreme Court, involving a broad range of civil rights and civil liberties issues. He was also an active participant in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle for community control of the schools. He has taught constitutional litigation at NYC law schools and for five years directed Hofstra Law School's Constitutional Law Clinic. 

During two years when he lived in Costa Rica, he worked with an indigenous rights organization to establish the right of Costa Rican Indians to choose traditional forms of self-government.

For more than ten years, Levine has been special counsel to LatinoJusticePRLDEF, for which he has successfully fought efforts of local communities to keep day laborers from gathering in public places to solicit employment.

Levine has also been active in the fight against Islamophobia. In a National Law Journal article, he described the harms to the New York Muslim community resulting from the NYPD’s surveillance program, and questioned its constitutionality. In the fall of 2007, when Mayor Bloomberg, bowing to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice, forced Debbie Almontaser to resign as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, he undertook a three-year legal battle, leading to an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission determination that, in forcing Debbie's resignation, City officials -- in the EEOC's words -- had “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”

Levine also contributes to Beyond the Pale radio show on WBAI.

Diana DeJesus-Medina is the Director of Development at LatinoJustice. Diana has more than 15 years of nonprofit organizational and fund development experience. As a development officer for such diverse organizations as the YWCA of Brooklyn, the American Folk Art Museum and the NYC Board of Education, Diana has provided guidance and support for board and staff to increase donation revenue from foundations, corporations and individuals, as well as through event sponsorships. She has organized volunteers, training conferences and special events.

During her tenure with Family Promise, a national nonprofit that establishes and supports local affiliates across the country to shelter and serve homeless families with children, Diana led local affiliate board and staff in organizational development and strategic planning, and provided training on board and fund development. As a volunteer, Diana supports and raises funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and for a homeless shelter in her New Jersey community.

Silvia Orna is the Director of Human Resources and Operations at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Silvia has extensive non-profit management experience with a particular focus on strategic design & structure, strength analysis, change management, organizational culture, and transformational leadership development. Silvia is a strategic partner driving key business decisions and implementing performance-driven initiatives. Silvia has a strategic vision and a keen eye for identifying individual strengths and aligning them to organizational objectives and mission, as well as a clear eye for priorities and processes. Silvia has successfully created and implemented strategies that directly impact employee development and organizational culture, and has facilitated a work environment of ownership and accountability. In addition to her strategic role, Silvia is experienced on core human resources functions managing talent acquisition, onboarding, employee engagement & performance, and benefits & compensation. Silvia is the adviser to the President and General Counsel and the Senior Management team on core human resources issues, she is a motivator with high standards, with the ability to gather consensus and promote change.

Silvia has a Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from New York University and is a Senior Certified Professional by the Society of Human Resources Management. Silvia graduated Magna Cum Laude from San Francisco de Quito University in Ecuador with a degree in Psychology. Silvia has an International Bachelor Degree in Physics and Mathematics from the IB Association, Geneva Switzerland. She is a member of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SiOP), and the Association for Talent Development (ADT). Silvia is also a member and sits on the board of the Organizational Development Network of New York (ODNNY).

Silvia was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador and has lived in NYC since 2000. She is fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese. She is a practitioner of Capoeira Angola, loves to travel and to dance.

Sonji Patrick is the Director of Education at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. She has been with LatinoJustice for 17 years working solely in the legal education department, managing current initiatives and developing new projects. As the current director, Sonji oversees the new Cesar A. Perales Leadership Institute (CAP) and manages all pre-law programs. Sonji works to uphold LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s long-term guiding principles: preparing Latinas and Latinos for law school, thereby cultivating new leaders, and nurturing young Latinos to become change makers in their communities. Sonji helps to accomplish this by directing a continuum of comprehensive services: legal education programs, leadership and professional development, and volunteer opportunities at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Programs include the LSAT Prep Course, LAWbound®, LSAT-to-JD workshop series, legal internship programs, and one-on-one counseling services. Sonji also executes the organization’s signature event, LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Annual Law Day. Sonji makes regular presentations at NY area colleges, addressing pre-law groups and student organizations on law school admissions. Sonji also manages our strategic partnerships, i.e. leveraging partnerships to enrich our programming, broaden our outreach, and deepen our footprint. She serves on the New York State Bar Association, Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, as part of their Youth Law Day planning group, and is a member of the Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee of the New York City Bar Association. She has contributed to pre-law guides, and written articles for the CLEO Edge and the NYSBA Pro Bono Newsletter. Sonji is also a member of the Northeast Association Pre-Law Advisors.

Christiaan Perez is the Manager of Advocacy and Digital Strategy at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Christiaan develops collaborations with community advocates to raise awareness about a range of issues impacting the Latino community. These collaborations range from developing digital strategy to coordinating with the legal department to help bring resources for actions or events. Christiaan also maintains LatinoJustice’s digital presence on social media, the website and newsletter all while producing content for the various platforms. Before joining LatinoJustice, Christiaan was the host of a Spanish radio program called CyTUnidos and was the Assistant Producer of an English radio program called Labor Lines. While working in radio, he was responsible for booking interviews, managing the digital presence, conducting interviews and editing down the content for five different radio stations. Before for the radio shows, Christiaan worked in communications at a media development NGO in the Netherlands called Free Press Unlimited. Christiaan graduated from Hofstra University with a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Global Studies. While there he also volunteered with the Hofstra radio station WRHU.

Jose Luis Perez is the Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF and has served as Litigation Director since September 2007. He oversees LJP’s Legal Division, recognized nationally for its law reform litigation that has profoundly improved the way Latinos are treated in our society. Jose has been the lead lawyer on a number of precedent setting-cases which inter alia have codified rent regulatory & housing protections for non-citizen tenants in NYC; enjoined attempts to require landlords in New Jersey verify the immigration status of tenants; limiting local police enforcement of immigration warrants in Maryland; and most recently securing a court decision affirming that a dacamented law graduate can fulfill state character & fitness licensing requirements and be admitted to the NY bar. He also works very closely with LJP’s Communications & Community Engagement and Education Divisions on the organization’s many innovative pipeline pre-law and leadership programs. Jose has mentored countless high school, college and law students and new lawyers of color over the years.

He began his legal career as a prosecutor with the Queens County District Attorney’s Office and the NYC Housing Authority’s Anti-Narcotics Strike Force. He worked for over ten years at the NYC Legal Aid Society, initially as a staff attorney in the Juvenile Rights Division representing children in Family Court child protective, foster care, delinquency and PINS proceedings; and was subsequently appointed a supervising attorney in LAS’ Civil Division in the Brooklyn and Harlem Neighborhood Offices overseeing the housing and family law practices. He spent a year at Hofstra Law School’s Community Legal Assistance program supervising student attorneys in the Housing Rights and Disabilities Law Clinics while teaching lawyering and litigation skills. Prior to joining LatinoJustice, Jose served as an Assistant Attorney General, Deputy Chief, and Acting Chief of the NYS Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds & Protection Bureau. While at the OAG, Jose helped to create the AG’s groundbreaking initiative to protect Hispanic and other immigrant consumers, specializing in prosecuting immigration services and notario fraud cases.

Jose is a 1985 graduate of St. John’s University School of Law where he created the “Spanish Street Law” community education program as a student. He continues to supportthe award-winning Street Law en Espanol program as it is now called, working with NYC Metro-area LALSA student groups conduct Spanish-language know your rights workshops at local parishes, public libraries and community groups.

Christine Rickoff Tirado is the Development Manager at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. She has sixteen years of experience in not-for-profit fundraising. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from New York University, Christine worked in editorial and marketing positions at several publishing firms including Matthew Bender, W.H. Freeman and Company and Saunders College Publishing.

Christine moved from publishing to not-for-profit Development beginning as a grant writer at Harlem United Community Aids Center. She was a Development Associate at Aaron Davis Hall where she managed the annual fund and individual donor cultivation. Christine served as Senior Development Associate and Communications Manager at Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service where she managed special events, secured grant funding and produced annual reports and newsletters. Christine is a Board Member of Stars, Inc., an organization that provides scholarship support for disadvantaged youth to study dance.

Rhadaisis Rodriguez has been LatinoJustice's Chief Administrative Assistant and receptionist for 10 years. Rhady's responsibilities include providing valuable support to the all of the LatinoJustice staff.

Rhady graduated with honors from the University of Dominican Republic in 1994 in Executive Secretary Management, and from Hostos Community College, where she obtained an AA in Secretarial Sciences. “Being the administrative assistant at LatinoJustice PRLDEF represent a tremendous responsibility for me. Welcoming the staff and visitors every day with professionalism and courtesy is my goal.”

Kira Romero-Craft is an Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, focusing on immigrants rights, voting rights, employment law cases and criminal justice reform. Kira began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works fellow for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association in Orlando, Florida where she focused on representation of undocumented immigrant children in juvenile and immigration court.

Kira has organized collaborations with the private bar and law schools to lead pro bono clinics to address gaps in representation for indigent clients applying for immigration status under humanitarian benefits. Prior to joining LatinoJustice, she was the Program Director for the Children's Legal program at Americans for Immigrant Justice where she led a team of lawyers representing immigrant children in dependency and removal proceedings. Kira is the Co-Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Central Florida Chapter. Kira was born in Portoviejo, Ecuador and lived in New York City’s upper west side prior to moving to Central Florida with her family. She is a graduate of Rollins College and the Florida State University, College of Law.

Rosanna Rosado is the Chief Financial Officer of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. She brings 15 years of fiscal and operations management within the nonprofit community; positioning organizations for solid financial footing, optimizing their operations; devising systems and controls to improve business processes; securing scope, adequacy and integrity of their fiscal and internal controls; securing budgetary compliance and organizational objectives. A longtime advocate for social and racial justice, as a former community organizer working with marginalized communities.

Rosanna obtained an MBA from Iona Hagan School of Business in Management & Finance, with a Certificate in International Business and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from the College of New Rochelle.

Jerónimo Saldaña is the Co-Director of the Justice Reform Collaborative at LatinoJustice PRLDEF where he focuses on building Latinx power to end the criminalization of communities of color. Jerónimo has over a decade of experience working to advance criminal justice and immigration reforms through the use of grassroots and digital strategies. He has honed his skills through his time working in grantmaking philanthropy, organized labor, and national legislative advocacy arenas.

Saldaña is also a proud member of Mijente, a new political home for Chicanxs and Latinxs. A skilled digital strategist, Jerónimo volunteers on their comms squad where he was the driving force behind the viral anti-Trump Make America Mexico Again hat campaign and continues to pursue cultural shifting dialogues through the use of online spaces. In 2016, Remezcla included his activism in their list of Latino activists who fought for a better world. He is currently based in Brooklyn and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chicana/o Studies.

Sesilia Valdez Diaz who was recently admitted to the Florida Bar begins her legal career at LatinoJustice as an Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow sponsored by the Florida Bar Foundation. Her fellowship project is called the Central Florida Workplace Justice Initiative (CFWJI) where she will advocate for Latina workers in the hospitality industry facing employment law issues. She is based in LatinoJustice’s Southeast Office in Orlando. Sesilia is from Mount Dora, Florida, and graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in criminology. She is a 2017 law graduate of Florida A&M University College of Law, where her passion for public interest work began. Sesilia was awarded the International Human Rights Law Fellowship during her first year of law school, and participated as a student legal intern in the College of Law’s Guardian ad Litem and Community Economic Development Legal Clinics. She also interned with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association as a Guardian ad Litem intern.

Nathalia Alejandra Varela is a Legal Fellow at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, focusing on low-wage Latino workers as part of the Latinas @ Work (L@W) Project Initiative in Nassau County, Long Island, NY. Prior to joining LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Nathalia worked as a staff attorney with the Tenants’ Rights Coalition at Bronx Legal Services focusing on eviction defense and tenants’ rights. Nathalia graduated from CUNY School of Law in 2015. As a third-year law student Nathalia interned with LatinoJustice where her research and writing contributed to a ground breaking decision holding that DACA recipients are eligible for admission to the New York State Bar.

Jorge Luis Vasquez, Jr. is an Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF and litigates on a broad range of civil rights matters. Jorge is a second generation Nuyorican and a proud product of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University at Albany, a Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall University School of Law, and an LL.M. in trial and advocacy from Basely School of Law, Temple University.

During law school Jorge served as a student mediator, representing pro se litigants with pending employment discrimination claims before the Southern District of New York. He also participated in the Immigrant Rights/ International Human Rights Clinic, where he successfully represented a detained Guatemalan national before an Article I Judge.

After law school, Jorge served as a judicial law clerk to a Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Previously, Jorge was an Agency Attorney with the New York City Commission on Human Rights where he was responsible for enforcing New York City’s Human Rights Law. Prior to the Commission, Jorge was a housing attorney with Legal Services NYC the nation’s largest provider of free civil representation.

Jorge is a lifelong advocate. Because of his dedication and leadership to the community in undergraduate he received the President’s Award for Leadership. In law school, he was the recipient of the Adeline Lillian Memorial Award for making the law school experience more life-affirming for others through compassionate contributions to the community, and Public Interest Scholar during his LL.M. In 2016, he was named the New York County Bar Association’s Young Lawyer’s Division, Star of the Bar.

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