Steven Choi, Esq.
Steve Choi, Esq. is the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella advocacy and policy coalition of nearly 200 member groups representing New York State’s immigrant communities. From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Choi was the Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, which organizes, advocates for, educates and serves Korean and Asian community members in New York. Prior to that, Mr. Choi was a Staff Attorney and the founding Director of the Korean Workers Project at the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the only project on the East Coast focused on providing free legal services to low-wage Korean immigrants.
Mr. Choi received a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a M.A. from the University of Hawai’i, and a B.A. from Stanford University in History with Honors.
Sara Rakita joined the NYIC as Managing Director in December 2014. Sara has extensive experience in non-profit management and human rights advocacy. She was previously Associate Director of the Public Interest Law Center at New York University School of Law. Prior to that she served as a long-term consultant to the Ford Foundation, where she was responsible for piloting and setting up TrustAfrica, a new African grant-making foundation that is now based in Senegal. Sara spent several years as an Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, including two years as the organization's representative in Rwanda. Sara has also consulted for Amnesty International, Global Rights, and the US Agency for International Development.
Sara holds a J.D. from New York University, an M.I.A. from Columbia University, and a B.A. in international studies from The American University. She speaks fluent French, proficient Spanish, and basic Russian.
Camille Mackler, Esq.
Director of Legal Initiatives
Camille J. Mackler, Esq. is the Director of Legal Initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, where she works with NYIC members and a variety of stakeholders on issues relating to immigration law in New York. Before joining the NYIC in March 2013, Ms. Mackler worked in private practice representing immigrants before US Immigration Courts and Federal Courts of Appeals. She focused primarily on asylum and refugee, deportation proceedings, immigration detention, and family-based immigration issues.
Ms. Mackler is currently the co-chair of the Media and Advocacy committee for the NY Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She has a Juris Doctor. from New York Law School and a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. She is also a frequent lecturer on immigration law and advocacy issues surrounding the practice of immigration law.
Director of Special Projects
Elizabeth (Betsy) Plum is the Director of Special Projects at the New York Immigration Coalition where she oversees a number of initiatives to better serve and engage immigrant families and communities in New York. Betsy joined the NYIC in 2013 as the DACA Outreach Coordinator following a tenure in the direct legal services field at Central American Legal Assistance (CALA) in Brooklyn, New York. During her time at CALA, Betsy honed her knowledge of immigration policy, federal programs, and administrative advocacy. She sits on CALA's Junior Board as well as the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center’s Emerging Leaders and Outreach Committees.
Betsy holds a B.A. in Political Studies from Bard College, a Certificate of International Relations and Global Affairs from the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program, and an M.Sc. in Comparative Politics and Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Director of Regional Advocacy
Jackie Vimo is the Director of Regional Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition. She is currently a member of the Regional Advisory Committee of the New York State Health Benefit Exchange established under the Affordable Care Act and was a member of the Health Disparities Workgroup of Governor Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT). Jackie has been working for over 15 years in the field of public policy on a broad array issues, including: HIV/AIDS, public health, workers’ rights, racial justice and immigration. Jackie has done social justice work in Argentina, where her family lives, and has held policy positions at organizations such as Make the Road New York and The New York AIDS Coalition. Jackie has been the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Commission on the Public’s Health System and the New York Peer AIDS Education Coalition and has served as a member of the Board of Directors and the Community Funding Board of the North Star Fund. Jackie also teaches in the Political Science Departments at the City College of New York and the New School University.
Jackie received a B.A. in Political Science from Barnard College, Columbia University and a M.A. in Political Science from UC Berkeley. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate writing a doctoral dissertation about local immigration movements.
Mubashar (Max) Ahmed
Senior Education Advocacy Associate
Mubashar (Max) Ahmed is the Education Advocacy Associate with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC). He has worked on schools and Latin-Consulate partnerships through the Consular ID Project, which gives consular identification to immigrant parents who may lack IDs to access their child’s school and attend parent teacher meetings, he has worked with NYC Council Members to fund the $18M DACA project which allows city funding for NYC youth to receive DACA & educational services, and with DREAMers and undocumented youth to advocate for federal immigration reform through testimony & speeches at rallies, hearings, legislative meetings, press conferences and communication with media. He has testified before the New York City Council Committee on Education to provide educational supports and a sound education to the City’s 150K English language learners. Max works closely with community leaders across NYC & NYS during monthly collaborative meetings to discuss education issues for immigrant students and their parents, informing City and State advocacy materials on education policy. He also coordinates the NYIC Parent Guide to College Project that provides immigrant parents with workshops, resources, and information on sending their children to college. He was among the first cohort of recipients of the New York Immigration Coalition's DREAM fellowship, which provided a CUNY scholarship, leadership development sessions, and internships at NYIC member groups for ten talented young people. Previously, Max has held an Adviser Fellowship at the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations and worked at Cotton Mine, a business-to-business print & design firm.
Mr. Ahmed graduated, Cum Laude, with a Baccalaureate of Engineering in Chemical Engineering from the City University of New York, City College.
Special Projects Associate
Mayra Aldás-Deckert is the Special Projects Fellow at The New York Immigration Coalition where she provides administrative and logistics assistance for Consular ID Events. A native of Ecuador, Mayra moved to NYC almost 9 years ago. Mayra joined the New York Immigration Coalition in 2014.
Mrs. Aldas-Deckert attended Brooklyn College where she obtained her B.S. in Business Management and Finance as well as the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador where she completed three years of Commercial Engineering with focus in Management and Business Planning.
Civic Engagement Coordinator
Murad Awawdeh is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition, and a longtime and dedicated community organizer and advocate. Murad coordinates the Civic Engagement Collaborative and works with the Coalition’s member agencies on civic engagement initiatives, such as voter registration, public education, Get Out the Vote Campaigns, and voter protection. He works closely with NYIC member agencies to meaningfully engage immigrant communities in the electoral process, to support capacity and movement building. Before joining the New York Immigration Coalition, Murad worked on social, youth, environmental, and climate justice initiatives. He facilitated initiatives to help engage indigenous community residents to build local leadership, transform their lives and neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn.
Health Advocacy Senior Specialist
Claudia Calhoon joined the NYIC in 2014 as Health Advocacy Senior Specialist. She is responsible for program development and management of NYIC’s advocacy to ensure health access for all immigrant communities in New York. Claudia has led program development and operations in a diverse array of public health and non-profit settings including the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, the Open Society Foundations and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cuenca, Ecuador. Most recently, she worked at NYU School of Medicine where she oversaw an NIH-funded research core to promote health disparities research and community engagement in medical research. Claudia has strong interest in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and health access and equity.
Claudia is currently enrolled in the Doctorate of Public Health Program at CUNY Graduate Center. She received a MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and a BA in American History from Earlham College.
Immigration Campaign Coordinator
Manuel Castro is the Immigration Campaign Organizer at the New York Coalition. Manuel currently works with NYIC’s New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform campaign, a coalition of over 170 member and partner organizations working to pass federal immigration reform. Manuel also works on statewide and local advocacy initiatives, such as the campaign to expand access to driver’s licenses for all New Yorkers. Previously, Manuel worked with the NYIC’s advocacy efforts to increase support for immigrants impacted by Hurricane Sandy and with NYIC’s voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns.
Manuel graduated from Hampshire College with a BA in Anthropology and Film Studies and received a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) degree from Baruch College.
Immigration Advocacy Manager
Christina Chang is the Immigration Advocacy Manager at the New York Immigration Coalition. Before joining the NYIC, Christina was the Advocacy and Organizing Coordinator of the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, Queens. Prior to that, she was the Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff and General Counsel to former Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.
Christina served as a Fulbright Fellow in South Korea and received a B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College.
Charlotte Gossett Navarro
Regional Outreach Senior Associate
Charlotte is the Regional Outreach Senior Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition. She coordinates NYIC services, programs and advocacy with immigrant communities in Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Charlotte is a social worker with over fifteen years of personal and professional experience in program development, social justice advocacy and organizing with young people and families from immigrant communities in both New York and the Washington, DC metro area.
Charlotte received a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work, a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and a Bachelors of Arts in Spanish, Latin American Studies and Justice from American University.
New Americans Volunteer Coordinator
As the New Americans Volunteer Coordinator, Kiwi Grady works to engage highly skilled immigrant volunteers in Sandy Recovery efforts in New York City, in addition to supporting general volunteer and community partner engagement in the work of the NYIC. Prior to coming to the NYIC, Kiwi managed student leadership development programs and organizational chapters at GLSEN, and peer education-in-residence and social justice programs at NYU’s Department of Residential Education.
Kiwi earned a bachelor’s degree in Gender and Sexuality Studies and a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study and the NYU Steinhardt School of Education, respectively.
A native Peruvian, Silvia fell in love with nonprofits when she was only a teenager. Inspired by a high school program Global Kids at International High School at LaGuardia Community College, Silvia quickly developed a deep passion for charitable work. Silvia has provided administrative support to The New York Immigration Coalition for over 8 years.
Silvia holds a BA in Political Science and Latin American Studies from Hunter College.
Regional Outreach Associate
Francis Madi is the Regional Outreach Associate on Long Island for the New York Immigration Coalition. She coordinates immigration services and advocates for immigrant communities in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Prior to working with the Coalition, she organized around Immigration issues for the Arab American Association of NY and La Fuente Inc. in Brooklyn and Long Island. Inspired by the DREAM movement, she also became a speaker and a writer of the undocumented community on campus. She is the 2014 Recipient of the Uncommon Courage award given by the Center for Ethnic Racial and Religious Understanding at Queens College and has participated on numerous panels and theatre productions involving immigration and the arts. Born in Venezuela, she has been a Long Island resident for 8 years.
She holds a B.A from Queens College-CUNY where she also organized around immigration, LGBTQ and educational issues.
Legal Initiatives Coordinator
Samuel Palmer-Simon, Esq., is the Legal Initiatives Coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition. Prior to joining the NYIC, Samuel was a staff attorney with the New York Legal Assistance Group's Immigrant Protection Unit, where he provided legal representation to his clients on a diverse range of immigration matters, managed a New York City grant for DACA legal services, as well as a New York State Office for New Americans grant, and spearheaded NYLAG's involvement in a number of policy advocacy initiatives. Beforehand, Samuel was an immigration litigation associate with a New York City law firm and a Brooklyn Law School Graduate Fellow with Safe Horizon. As a law student, Samuel was an Executive Articles Editor for the Brooklyn Law School Journal of International Law and a legal clinician with the BLIP clinic, representing clients in the start-up technology sector.
Samuel received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School and his B.A., cum laude, from the University of New Mexico.
Juan J. Ramírez
Senior Administrative and Operations Associate
Juan J. Ramirez started with the NYIC in August of 2007 as the Executive Assistant. In his current role as the Senior Administrative and Operations Associate, he works closely with the Managing Director and the Administrative Manager on internal projects, administrative planning, and human resources. Juan also works on events and coordinates logistics for the NYIC’s days of action, membership events, and the annual gala. On his off-time, he volunteers with iMentor, an organization working towards empowering students from low-income communities and increasing college readiness, and has volunteered with nonprofits that focus on education.
Juan holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
Gillian Rowland-Kain initially joined the New York Immigration Coalition in September 2013 as a Membership and Communications Fellow through the AmeriCorps program, Public Allies. Currently, as the Special Assistant, Gillian works closely with the Executive Director and the administrative and communications teams. Previously, Gillian worked as a Program Coordinator with buildOn, a youth development organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education, through NYC Civic Corps, an AmeriCorps program run by NYC Service. Gillian is passionate about ending human rights abuses and is an active member of Amnesty International.
Gillian holds a M.Sc. in Human Rights and International Politics from the University of Glasgow in Scotland and a B.A. in International Relations from Connecticut College.
Training and Legal Initiatives Associate
Oriana Sanchez is the Training and Legal Initiatives Associate at the New York Immigration Coalition. Before joining the NYIC in March, 2013, Ms. Sanchez worked as a Legal Assistant with a private attorney in Jackson Heights for seven years. During her time at the law firm, she assisted with immigration matters, helping immigrants adjust their status and naturalize. Oriana originally joined the coalition as the Administrative Associate working on the day-to-day running of the office. Starting on July of 2014, Ms. Sanchez joined the Legal Initiatives team at the NYIC where she helps spearhead efforts around legal issues affecting the immigrant community while also helping to run the NYIC’s Immigrant Concerns Training Institute (ICTI).
Ms. Sanchez is a graduate of Baruch College with a B.A. in Political Science and Anthropology.
Laurie Smolenski is the Development Manager at the New York Immigration Coalition. Before joining the NYIC in September 2013, Laurie advocated for issues of local and national importance to New York City’s immigrant communities, including comprehensive immigration reform, adult education and voting rights. Her international field experience includes working with human trafficking survivors in Spain and researching indigenous women in the Solomon Islands. She regularly contributes to Waging Nonviolence.
Laurie has a Master’s degree in International Relations with a focus on women’s and immigrant rights from the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and urban studies from Wayne State University.
Manager of Education Advocacy
Kim Sykes is the Manager of Education Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Kim joined the NYIC in September 2010 as a Policy and Program Fellow responsible for special projects ranging from research to organizational management initiatives. Her current responsibilities include coordinating the NYIC’s Education Collaborative and overseeing State and City advocacy to related to English language learners, immigrant students and their families. Previously, she was Account Supervisor at Resnicow Schroeder Associates, a leading strategic communications agency for non-profit organizations. In her 7 years there, she led development and implementation of strategic communications campaigns for art museums across the country, evaluated sponsorship opportunities for Ford Motor Company Fund and managed the implementation of sponsored projects.
Kim holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Spanish from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and an MPA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) with dual concentrations in social policy and non-profit management.
Membership & Capacity Building Associate
Jonathan Vidal is the Membership & Capacity Building Associate at the New York Immigration Coalition. He handles all administrative processes for membership. Mr. Vidal has worked with the New York Immigration Coalition since 2006.
Mr. Vidal is a graduate of York College with a B.S. in Business Administration.
Thanu Yakupitiyage is the Communications Coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition. She has worked with NYIC since 2010 and supported the Coalition's communications and media relations capacity. Thanu liasons on the daily with local, state, and national press around issues pertaining to immigrant communities, works with the Coalition's broad programs to get our work and message out, and supports our efforts to grow our technological and social media capacity. In addition, Thanu is the main coordinator for a special NYIC project, the DREAM Fellowship program, which supports the leadership development skills of young undocumented youth in New York's public universities. She has previously worked for the Applied Research Center, Global Action Project, and the Andrus Family Fund, and has international communications experience in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Thanu has a MA in communications from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BA in critical media studies and international development from Hampshire College.
Volunteer Coordinator VISTA
Nancy Opoku is the Volunteer Coordinator VISTA at the New York Immigration Coalition. She came to the coalition in October 2014 as a transfer from Pathways to Housing NY, where she managed their volunteer program from the ground up. Before becoming a VISTA in March 2013 she volunteered abroad as a Teacher Assistant at an orphanage school in Ho/Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. Currently Nancy is working on laying the foundation for the coalition's first Volunteer Interpreter/Translator bank
Nancy holds a B.S in Sociology and Criminal Justice from SUNY Buffalo State College.