Staff

Alisa Wellek, Co-Executive Director
awellek@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6421
Alisa Wellek  spent the past year serving first as Deputy Director and then Interim Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project, where she helped guide IDP’s work to fight for the rights of all immigrants accused or convicted of crimes. Through national and local advocacy, community education, and litigation, Alisa focuses on challenging programs that entangle local law enforcement and Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and funnel immigrants into an unjust detention and deportation system. Alisa currently leads IDP’s federal reform efforts, where she coordinates a communications strategy that disrupts the dominant narratives surrounding immigrants convicted of crimes and provides public education in support of legislative strategies and grassroots field operations. Alisa began her work at IDP as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, where among other things, she started the Post-Padilla Project. This placement and mentorship program for pro bono attorneys representing immigrants through Padilla-based post-conviction motions was institutionalized with appellate defender offices into the first ever city-funded program of its kind.Alisa received her JD from New York University School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow, Dwight Opperman Scholar, and Florence Allen Scholar. While at NYU, she worked for two years as a student practitioner in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, where she and her partner successfully settled a 1983 action against New York City for the unconstitutional overdetention of a long-term resident. Alisa spent four years doing organizing and policy work, and building her skills in nonprofit management, as the National Campaign and Advocacy Manager at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in New York City. She received her B.A. from Stanford University and got her advocacy and organizing start growing up in Chicago.

Andrea Panjwani, Co-Executive Director
apanjwani@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6486
In 2006, Andrea initiated the legal program at African Services Committee (“ASC”) and served as ASC’s directing attorney for eight years. In that capacity, Andrea  has overseen and grown ASC’s civil and immigration legal programs through visioning, fundraising, and program management. She has supervised and provided direct representation to detained and non-detained immigrants in immigration court, before USCIS and in the housing, family, federal and Supreme Courts. In addition, Andrea serves as litigation consultant to Lawyers Against Human Trafficking and provides immigration trainings throughout New York City. Andrea is a 2014 recipient of the Louis J. Lefkowitz Public Service Award. In the course of her work, Andrea has borne witness to the disproportionate impact that immigration laws have upon immigrants with criminal convictions and the collateral damage that flows to their families and communities as a result. Andrea believes that the movement to creatively reverse harmful immigration policies is among the most important work to be done if we are to move toward a society that advances the common good in a just, humane and inclusive way.   Prior to her work at ASC, Andrea was a full-time Clinician and Adjunct Professor at Brooklyn Law School.  She previously served a predominantly immigrant client base at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., where she grew the office to focus on fair housing litigation, landlord/tenant defense and affordable housing advocacy. She was also a contributing editor to the Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development and coordinator of the Miami Beach Law Center. Andrea was a recipient of the Equal Justice Award for this work. She graduated from Fordham Law School in 1991.

Benita Jain, Managing Attorney, Defending Immigrants Partnership
bjain@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6485
Benita (formerly co-Director of IDP) now leads IDP’s work with the Defending Immigrants Partnership, a national collaboration which trains public defenders on immigration consequences of criminal convictions and assists defender offices in setting up office-wide immigration advisal programs.  Benita also monitors and analyzes legislative proposals affecting immigrants who have interacted with the criminal justice system and has supported IDP’s litigation efforts. She has written several pro se guides for immigrants fighting deportation and is an original co-author of the “Deportation 101″ curriculum. She graduated from NYU School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Scholar, and joined IDP on a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2003. She is a past Board member of Families for Freedom and past Steering Committee member of the Detention Watch Network. Prior to law school, Benita led grassroots organizing efforts on environmental and campaign finance campaigns.

Dawn Seibert, Staff Attorney
dseibert@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 937.342.3781
Dawn works with IDP’s litigation team to protect the U.S. Supreme Court’s Padilla v. Kentucky decision by monitoring and supporting post-conviction relief litigation to remedy uninformed pleas. She consults with practitioners on trial strategy in post-conviction relief cases, provides model post-conviction relief materials and sample briefs, and intervenes as amicus in impact cases regarding the scope and retroactivity of Padilla.  Dawn’s work focuses, too, on judicial education – specifically, addressing court advisals to defendants and the role of the judiciary in ensuring that defendants receive the accurate immigration advice mandated by Padilla. Dawn is also involved in training criminal defense attorneys on the provision of accurate immigration advice to non-citizen defendants. Dawn is a graduate of Cornell University and Vermont Law School. Prior to joining IDP, she worked in the Vermont Office of the Defender General, where she represented indigent defendants at trial and appellate levels in post-conviction relief and “conditions of confinement” cases. Prior to law school, Dawn worked as a special education teacher, specializing in students with autism and other communication disabilities.

Manuel D. Vargas, Senior Counsel
mvargas@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6485
Manny founded IDP in 1997 (in conjunction with our original sponsor, New York State Defenders Association) and is currently IDP Senior Counsel.  A nationally known expert on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, he is the author of several legal resource materials for advocacy on behalf of immigrants accused of crimes, including Representing Immigrant Defendants in New York (5th ed, 2011) and the Removal Defense Checklist in Criminal Charge Cases, and provides training and immigration law backup assistance on criminal/immigration issues.  Manny has also engaged in and supported litigation defending the legal rights of immigrants placed in removal proceedings based on criminal charges. Prior to his work with IDP, Manny represented and counseled immigrants for eight years as a staff and supervising attorney of the New York City Legal Aid Society Immigration Unit.  Manny’s advocacy work on behalf of immigrants has been recognized by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (2011 Lifetime Achievement Award), American Immigration Lawyers Association (2007 Jack Wasserman Award for Excellence in Litigation in the Field of Immigration Law), New York State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section (2002 Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Delivery of Defense Services), New York State Attorney General’s Office (2002 Award for Distinguished Public Service in the Legal Profession), and New York State Defenders Association (2000 Service of Justice Award).

Michelle Parris, Hotline Director
mparris@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6486
Michelle brings to the work several years as a public defender in the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders, where she developed a keen understanding of the challenges of representing immigrant clients. Michelle was previously awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship focused on indigent defense for those with mental health issues. Michelle is a graduate of Stanford Law School where she was a student attorney with Stanford Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. She was also Board Member of the Stanford Black Law Students Association, a coordinator and translator for the Housing Pro Bono Program, a Juvenile Detention Facility Teacher for Street Law, an Editor for the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and a member of the Stanford Latino Law Students Association. She previously interned with The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Practice and the Orleans Public Defenders. She is fluent in Spanish.

Mizue Aizeki, Policy, Community Outreach & Operations Coordinator
maizeki@immigrantdefenseproject.org; 212.725.6485
Mizue’s work at IDP focuses on policy initiatives and community outreach to halt the injustices at the intersection of the criminal justice and immigration systems.  Mizue also coordinates fundraising initiatives and manages office operations to support the mission of IDP.  Mizue has over fifteen years experience in organizing around workers’ rights, racial justice, and immigrant rights and has worked on issues of exterior and interior immigration enforcement since 2000. She is also a photographer whose work has appeared in Dying to Live, A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid, published by City Lights Books in 2008. Mizue received her M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA School of Architecture and her BA in Geography from UCLA.