Get Involved


The American Heritage Awards is our annual gala where we celebrate the talents, contributions, and accomplishments of notable immigrants and their advocates. The gala—held during the American Immigration Lawyers Association's Annual Conference—brings together hundreds of immigration advocates for a night of invaluable networking, incredible entertainment, and inspiring honorees.   

Save the Date: The 2020 American Heritage Awards will be held on June 19, 2020, in San Diego, CA. Please check back for more information.  

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

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.


AILA Dreams: About the Contest

AILA Dreams is a speech contest and professional development opportunity hosted by the American Immigration Council. Through the contest, the Council will provide guidance on how to write and speak about immigration in a forward-thinking and aspirational way.

This gives us an opportunity to broaden our tent and bring in more allies to the fight for a fair and just immigration system.

You can view the AILA Dreams webinar materials by downloading the presentation under the Training Portal.

Sign up to participate in the contest here.

Why Should You Participate?

By participating in this contest, you will:

  • Gain experience in speech writing and public speaking.
  • Raise your professional profile in the AILA community by having the opportunity to deliver your speech in front of your peers.
  • Have the chance to attend AILA’s Annual Conference and the American Heritage Awards for free.

What Are the Submission Requirements?

  • Topic: An inspiring speech that describes your vision for a 21st century immigration system.
    • Describe that America. What does it look, smell, sound, and feel like?
    • Cast a vision that everyone in America can see themselves in.
    • Appeal to hope and do more than point out problems or hand out blame. 
  • Written Speech: 400- to 650-word speech, sent as a Word document.
  • Video: 3- to 5-minute video recording of you delivering the speech, sent as a zip file or via DropBox or Google Drive.  

Send submissions to Melissa Cruz, Communications and Program Associate by Friday, April 19.

What Will the Council Provide?

  • An informative webinar that introduces participants to the basics of speech writing and public speaking, including pointers on structure, generating ideas, and holding an audience’s attention.
  • The opportunity to deliver your speech in front of the AILA community during the American Heritage Awards at the 2019 Annual Conference. 
  • Free tickets to the two winners for Annual Conference and the American Heritage Awards (including their +1’s for the awards ceremony). 

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 American Immigration Council, AILA’s non-profit partner, hosts several special events, panels and sessions during the conference, including:

2019 American Heritage Awards  

Gaylord Palms, Osceola C Ballroom, Convention Center Ballroom Level
Friday 6:00 pm–10:00 pm  

Join us for the Council’s annual gala, where conference attendees get dressed up and treated to an evening of camaraderie, inspiration, and entertainment. Don’t miss the event everyone’s talking about!  

Tickets are available online and onsite at the Council booth located in the Gaylord Palms, Lobby, Convention Center Ballroom

Panels and Sessions

Policy Panel - All Immigration ALL the Time: How Immigration and Asylum Continue to be the Center of Gravity 

Gaylord Palms, Sun C, Convention Center Ballroom Level
Thursday 12:25 pm–1:25 pm 

Join the Council’s policy experts for a review of the Trump administration’s attempts to alter the immigration landscape and keep it at the center of the D.C. policy debate. Topics will include the impact of the government shutdown, negotiations over the fate of Dreamers and TPS holders, attempts to unwind protection at the border, the explosive use of detention, and the steady unraveling of the immigration courts. Panelists will also discuss what to expect in the year ahead as we approach the next presidential election. CLE credit available. 

Communicating Inclusion 

AILA Classroom: Gaylord Palms, Hall A, Exhibit Level
Wednesday 5:00 pm–6:00 pm 

Meet the Council’s communications experts and learn how to communicate around contentious issues, as well as how to conduct your own community research that can help drive a new deep story of immigrant inclusion at the community level.  

Immigration Justice Campaign’s Fearless Lawyer Lounge  

Gaylord Palms, Naples, Convention Center Ballroom Level
Thursday 8:00 am–1:25 pm 

Come to the Immigration Justice Campaign’s Second Annual Fearless Lawyer Lounge for lively interactive panel sessions with expert practitioners who will answer questions and share tactics, strategies, and practical guidance on honing the skills you need to fight for your clients in removal proceedings.  

J-1 Training Sessions 

Earn CLE credit during the three sessions taught by our J-1 exchange experts. 

Exchange Visitor Program and J-1 Visa: Private Sector Categories 2019 Update  

Gaylord Palms, AILA Classroom, Hall A, Exhibit Level
Thursday 9:45 am–10:45 am 

Regulatory changes are expected for some of the private sector exchange visitor program categories within the year. Our J-1 visa sponsors walk through anticipated and proposed changes to 22 CFR Part 62, with a focus on program categories with a work-based learning component. CLE credit offered. 

Ask the Experts: Exchange Visitor Program and J-1 Visa  

Gaylord Palms, AILA Inspires Theater, Hall A, Exhibit Level
Thursday 4:05 pm–5:05 pm 

Our open forum provides a platform for you to raise questions about policy, regulatory, and case studies on the Exchange Visitor Program and J-1 visas. This CLE credit session includes an opportunity to submit questions in advance or ask in-person. Come for CLE and stay for refreshments! 

Writing a Successful J-1 Training/Internship Placement Plan (DS-7002)  

Gaylord Palms, AILA CLassroom, Hall A, Exhibit Level
Friday 10:40 am–11:40 am 

J-1 sponsors guide you through helping your clients write this core requirement of any J-1 visa sponsorship application in the intern or trainee category. Come away with CLE credit and clear directions on guiding clients away from accidentally misrepresenting their intentions as an exchange visitor program host.  

For more information about these events, contact Maryssa Hall at or (202) 507-7527, and visit the American Immigration Council booth located in the Gaylord Palms, Lobby, Convention Center Ballroom. 

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.

In response to the human rights crisis unfolding in the detention centers and courts at the U.S.-Mexican border, multiple local and national legal organizations have formed the El Paso Immigration Collaborative (EPIC). The collective’s goals are to advance the right to legal representation for detained immigrants and to provide sorely needed, increased oversight of the immigration courts and detention centers in and around El Paso.

Asylum denial rates for immigrants held in the massive detention centers in the El Paso region are among the highest in the United States. Asylum seekers detained in these facilities are victims of a due process disaster made worse by a dire shortage of lawyers that makes legal representation either unavailable or unaffordable for the vast majority of the 3,500 immigrants detained in the region. EPIC is marshalling the resources of its partner organizations to create a multi-faceted, data-driven campaign that coordinates the work of immigrant legal rights organizations in El Paso with thousands of remote legal volunteers across the United States to provide remote representation on bond and parole cases.

Linda Rivas, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said, “The tragic mass shooting in El Paso brought to light the anti-immigrant fervor simmering in our nation. As EPIC seeks to provide essential legal services to asylum seekers, we hope our work will help El Paso heal and fight back against hatred. Within El Paso’s detention and immigration court ecosystem, a vulnerable individual’s likelihood of release from detention or a granted asylum claim is essentially nil. In response, EPIC partners are bringing our resources to the table to fight back against the deportation machine that has come to characterize the asylum process in El Paso. As organizations that work to increase representation rates and due process for detained immigrants, we know that access to counsel and a fair day in court can mean the difference between life and death for asylum seekers. By combining collaboration, innovative legal theory, and technology, we intend to transform El Paso from a jurisdiction nearly devoid of due process to one where justice abounds.”

EPIC currently involves members from the following organizations:

  • Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
  • Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services
  • Catholic Charities of Southern NM
  • Santa Fe Dreamers Project
  •  PALS Program
  • Innovation Law Lab
  • American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Immigration Justice Campaign
  •  ACLU of Massachusetts' Immigrant Protection Project

Most Read

  • Publications
  • Blog Posts
  • Past:
  • Trending