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The American Heritage Awards is our annual gala where we celebrate the talents, contributions, and accomplishments of notable immigrants and their advocates. The gala is held during the American Immigration Lawyers Association's annual conference.

We presented the 2018 American Heritage Award to the pro bono team at Morrison & Foerster, who joined forces with us and our non-profit partners to challenge the unconstitutional conditions in short-term detention facilities, often called “hieleras.” Our honorees rose to the challenge and demanded that the government put an end to this practice.

Take a look at photos from our 2018 event. We hope to see you in Orlando, Florida for our 2019 American Heritage Awards.

The American Immigration Council celebrates the accomplishments of immigrants and their champions at its annual Washington DC Immigrant Achievement Awards.

We presented our Stephen K. Fischel Distinguished Public Service Award to our 2018 honoree: Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez. Take a look at photos from our event. We hope to see you at the 2019 Washington DC Immigrant Achievement Awards.

Each year, the American Immigration Council honors the remarkable accomplishments of immigrants and their advocates from around the country at our inspiring and thought-provoking award events.

Our distinguished honorees have come from politics, music, television, sports, education and many other professional fields. View a full list of many of the outstanding individuals and organizations we have honored over the years.


Congratulations to the 2016 AILA Super Chapters. You rocked it and stepped up to the challenge with 25% or more of your membership donating to the Council.

A heartfelt thank you to the AILA Super Chapter members, Chapter Chairs and Ambassadors. Your support allows us to continue fighting for fair immigration policies and achieve justice for immigrants.

The 2016 AILA Super Chapters are:

  • Carolinas
  • Chicago
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Minnesota/Dakotas
  • New England
  • New York
  • Wisconsin

Each Super Chapter will be recognized at our annual gala the American Heritage Awards and win a free Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook!

It is never too late to start preparing for the 2017 competition-keep in mind all donations made to the Council by Chapters members in that calendar year count towards the competition.

For questions or information, please contact Claudia Ornelas.  

The Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest challenges fifth graders across the country to reflect on and write about the theme “Why I Am Glad America Is a Nation of Immigrants.” The contest begins at the local level, with regional contests run by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) chapters. Each chapter sends its first place winning entry to the American Immigration Council for the national contest. The national winner reads his or her winning entry at the American Immigration Council’s American Heritage Awards in June.

Learn more about the contest.


Meet the 2018 Ambassador of the Year

The 2018 Ambassador of the Year award recipient is Katelyn Hufe. Katelyn has been an AILA member since 2011 and has served as her chapter’s Ambassador since 2014. She has worked tirelessly to promote the Council’s work within her chapter and hosted two dynamic fundraising events in Philadelphia in support of the Council. She is also a dedicated mentor offering her support to other AILA members and serves on AILA’s Pro Bono Committee.

Katelyn is a partner at Gian-Grasso, Tomczak, & Hufe, P.C. Her practice focuses on deportation defense, litigation, appeals, and protecting clients with final orders of removal. She also serves as an adjunct professor of Law at Drexel University, where she is helping to train the next generation of immigration attorneys.

About the Program

Ambassadors are essential in maintaining a strong relationship with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) community and expanding the American Immigration Council’s reach among the diverse Chapters. Made up of AILA members from each Chapter, Ambassadors engage and inform their colleagues and their local community about the mission of the Council by:

  • Educating fellow members about the resources the Council has to offer in order to develop their practice;
  • Informing the Council of current immigration issues and news that are important within their AILA Chapter and community; and
  • Fostering new and creative ways for the Council and the AILA community to work together.

Through the American Immigration Council’s “Ambassador of the Year” award, we recognize Council Ambassadors who have gone above and beyond and have demonstrated extraordinary dedication, involvement and initiative to enhancing the partnership between their AILA Chapter and the American Immigration Council, AILA’s non-profit partner.

For questions or additional information, please contact Nayeli Pelayo. A list of all Chapter Ambassador is available here.

For Attorneys

To enhance communication between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Chapters and the American Immigration Council, the Council created the Ambassador Program. Made up of AILA members from each Chapter, these Ambassadors help the Immigration Council share information, promote its events, distribute their research, and take the lead on community relation projects, among other tasks.


Fae Sowders

fsowders (at)

Bangkok District

Jeremy Weber

jwlawbkk (at)


Eric Fleischmann

Ellen Kief

ericf (at)

ekief (at)


Laura Burton

Amanda Keaveny

laura.Burton (at)

Amanda (at)

Central Florida

Michael Mendez    

Courtney Rineer 

mmendez (at)

crineer (at)


Ana Valenzuela
Jenny Ansay

avalenzuela (at)
jenny.ansay (at)


Katie Speer

kspeer (at)


Massiel Zucco-Himmelstein

mzucco (at)


Zainab Alwan

zainab (at)


Clare Hanusz

clare (at)


Kate Evans

katee (at)


Lacy Panyard

lacy.panyard (at)


Roxana Cortes

Jessica Feinstein

roxana (at)

jessica.feinstein (at)

Latin America and Caribbean

Xiomara Hernandez

xhernandez (at)


Rami Fakhoury

rami (at)


Ari Sauer

asauer (at)


Mai Neng Moua

mai (at)


Kenneth Schmitt

kschmitt (at)


Sylvia L. Esparza

sylviae (at)

New England

Christina Elder

celder (at)

New Jersey

Cesar Estela

cesar.estela (at)

New York

Yael Mizrahi

ymizrahi (at)

Northern California

David Palmer

davidmpalmer (at)


Karen D. Bradley

karen (at)


Nicole Nelson

nicole (at)


Katelyn M. Hufe

katelyn (at)


Ellen Freeman

efreeman (at)

Puetro Rico



Rome District



San Diego

Diana Vellos Coker

diana (at)

Santa Clara

Mike Mehr

mmehr51 (at)

Southern California

John Manley

jmanleylaw (at)

South Florida

Angelina Castro

Antonia Canero (at)

tammy (at)


Rick Gump

rick (at)

Upstate New York






Washington State

Keaton H. Whitten

keaton (at)

Washington, D.C.

Brenda Oliver

Sonal Verma

boliver (at)

sverma (at)


Jennifer Nissen

jnissen (at)

The American Immigration Council regularly partners with private firms and nonprofit organization on our litigation.  Please contact us to explore potential opportunities to collaborate.

The problem.

Access to legal counsel is a core American value and is the cornerstone of our justice system. But America has a deportation system that lacks fairness and basic due process, and every day the enforcement dragnet is widening. It detains immigrants in remote locations, limits their access to information and legal services, and yet expedites their deportation. At the same time, more than 80 percent of detained immigrants are unrepresented by counsel, and only about one-third of immigration attorneys practice deportation defense.

Our solution.

The Immigration Justice Campaign – an initiative between the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the American Immigrant Representation Project – seeks to change the playing field by preparing lawyers to be cutting-edge defenders of and advocates for immigrants facing deportation. There are thousands of attorneys across the country, both inside and outside the immigration bar, who are looking for opportunities to be part of this effort. We need volunteers from all fields.

In collaboration with partners, the Immigration Justice Campaign will give lawyers access to new strategies designed to promote zealous deportation defense, expand our networks and build new capacity. We will train, mentor and engage more of the legal community – and in the process, recruit new allies to our effort to reform the system.

What we will do.

  • Train Lawyers to Use Aggressive Legal Tactics:

We will train attorneys to aggressively defend immigrants facing removal, upending many traditional practices in order to use every available tool to protect individual rights and challenge the growing deportation machinery.

  • Increase Capacity to Provide Removal Defense:

By creating innovative mentorship programs, training lawyers of all experience levels, and recruiting more attorneys to this work, we will strengthen a national network that can represent individuals throughout the removal process.

  • Coordinate Advocacy and Litigation:

We will amplify the impact of individual representation and the influence of our work by collecting data and stories, identifying trends, engaging in communications work, and coordinating with our partners to do advocacy and litigation nationally.

  • Build a Movement:

Representation can be a transformative act that leads to a deeper commitment to the broader movement. We will connect attorneys and others mobilized by the hateful rhetoric around immigration and harsh enforcement practices to immigration reform fights, building power to affect real change.

Building New Partnerships.

We will collaborate with many partners, including immigrant rights organizations, law firms, law school clinics, and bar associations to accomplish the work of the Justice Campaign.  Some of our partners include:

  • The American Immigrant Representation Project: AIRP is a newly created initiative to recruit and harness the power of large law firms for the important work of pro bono removal defense for detained immigrants, especially those with criminal convictions.

  • The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative: Led by Southern Poverty Law Center, SIFI provides pro bono legal representation to immigrants detained in the southeastern United States. It will begin at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in collaboration with AILA, the Council, AIRP and the Innovation Law Lab.

  • The Stand with Immigrants Campaign: SWI is a large-scale mobilization effort to activate lawyers and other professionals to protect and promote the rights of immigrants. It is a collaboration of AILA, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc, National Council of La Raza, Immigration Advocates Network, Pro Bono Net, and the Advocates for Human Rights.

What can I do to help?

If you are new to removal defense and want to get trained; if you want to volunteer to represent detained immigrants; or if you are an expert in removal defense or federal court litigation and want to mentor – then join our community of committed, fearless lawyers ready to stand as the last line of defense against deportation. Tell us who you are and what you want to do, and we’ll share updates, training, and more information, go to

Contact Karen Lucas at with additional questions about the Immigration Justice Campaign or to learn more about getting involved.

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