Lam Nguyen Ho - Executive Director & Founder

Lam Nguyen Ho is the Executive Director of CALA (Community Activism Law Alliance), which he founded with a Harvard Law School Public Service Venture Fund seed grant.  He is currently an Echoing Green Global Fellow and will serve as a 2016-2017 Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow. 
Prior to founding CALA, he was a staff attorney at Equip for Equality, where he defended the civil rights of people with disabilities. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2008, Lam joined Chicago’s Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF) through a Skadden Foundation Public Interest Fellowship. During his time at LAF, he established and ran 10 community-based clinics providing free legal services to youth and their families on the west side of Chicago. He experienced firsthand the challenges of community lawyering and civil legal services, and was inspired to innovatively confront these challenges through the creation of CALA. 
Lam has received awards for his public service work including the 13th Annual NALP/PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award; the Gary Bellow Public Service Award; the Maria, Gabriella, & Robert Skirnick Public Interest Fellowship; the HLS Dean’s Award for Community Leadership; the Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award; the Beinecke Scholarship; the Point Foundation Scholarship; the Sonnenschein Scholars Summer Public Interest Fellowship; the Lenn Thrower ’83 Memorial Fellowship for Research in Queer Studies; and the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Volunteer Award.
At Harvard Law School, he was President of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau—the oldest student-run legal services organization in the country; was an editor for the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review; and completed over 3000 hours of pro bono legal services. He also worked as a research and teaching assistant to Professor Lucie White, helping Professor White to create a new, community-lawyering focused curriculum for Harvard's Poverty Law course. He holds additional graduate degrees from Brown University, where he completed its 4-year combined M.A./A.B. program, and the University of Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar and Sub-Dean of Wadham College. He was previously Chairperson of the HIV/AIDS Response Review Panel for the State of Illinois. He serves on the Advisory Committee for the Law Project, which provides pro bono transactional legal services needed to strengthen Chicago communities.


Deanne Medina - Chief of Legal Staff


Deanne Medina comes to CALA with 16 years of federal and state litigation experience, including jury trials and appeals.
Prior to working for CALA, Deanne worked as a Supervising Attorney at LAF and before that was in private practice.  While at LAF, Deanne ran the William J. Hibbler Pro Se Assistance Program, providing help to hundreds of pro se litigants in the areas of employment, police brutality, foreclosure defense, and contract disputes, among other areas.  She later supervised the newly formed Home and Community Ombudsman Project for suburban Cook and Lake Counties while at LAF.  
In private practice, Deanne and her former law partner were able to obtain a $4.2 million dollar verdict in a single plaintiff national origin and religious discrimination case against a large auto manufacturing company in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District.  She and her former partner also secured a $400,000 verdict in a sexual harassment case, also in the Northern District.  They also hold the first plaintiff’s side victory under the Illinois Victim’s Economic Safety and Security Act (which pertains to victims of domestic violence) which was heard at the Illinois Department of Labor.  Deanne has also settled hundreds of cases to her client’s satisfaction.  
Deanne received her J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago and her B.A. from Muskingum College in New Concord, OH.  
Deanne is licensed in Illinois, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois and in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Deanne is also a member of the Northern District Trial Bar.  She is an active member of both the national and Illinois chapters of the National Employment Lawyers Association, is a former member of the U.S. District Court’s Pro Bono Advisory Committee and has been a mentor attorney with the Chicago Bar Association. 
In her free time, Deanne enjoys advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities as well as musical theater, reading, cooking, hanging out with her family and her dog and walking.  

Antonio Gutierrez- Director of Programs & Operations

Antonio Gutierrez is a queer latinx immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico. Antonio has lived in Chicago since the year 2000 after immigrating to the United States to reunite with family members. Antonio is a graduate from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s of Architecture (B.Arch.). 

After graduation in 2012, Antonio joined the immigrant rights movement as an organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), an undocumented-led organization formed in 2009. Since 2012 Antonio has collectively organized rallies such as the national coming out of the shadows rally, fundraising events, mass marches, national retreats, and civil disobediences.

Antonio currently volunteers as a tenant organizer/ co-founder of the Autonomous Tenants Union (ATU), as a member of the steering committee of Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD), and the coordinator of the case committee of the Albany Park Defense Network (APDN)

Bindhu Vijayan - Director of Immigrant Empowerment and Activism


Bindhu joined CALA as Senior Immigration Attorney in November of 2017. Bindhu comes to CALA with over a decade of experience in the area of immigration law.  Bindhu’s experiences span across both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.  After law school, she joined private practices specializing in immigration law.  She gained invaluable experience in family-based immigration matters, citizenship and naturalization, employment matters, as well as defending individuals in removal or deportation proceedings before the Immigration Courts throughout the United States.  During law school, Bindhu was affiliated with her law school’s Poverty Law Clinic and interned with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, New York Legal Assistance Group, and Legal Services of New York  - Legal Support Unit. 

Bindhu obtained a Juris Doctor from New York Law School in 2006 and Bachelor of Science from Loyola University of Chicago in 2003.   She was a NYLS Public Interest Fellow, Joseph Solomon Public Service Fellow, was a recipient of the Dean’s Merit Scholarship and Alumni Association Scholarship, and president of the South Asian Law Students Association at NYLS. 

Larry Pande - Director Of Strategic Growth


Larry Pande comes to CALA as the agency's new Director of Strategic Growth, bringing over six years of administrative, development and direct-service experience. Since graduating from the University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies in 2013, Larry has worked in and with immigrant and refugee communities from Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan and Vietnam, to name a few, on Chicago's Northside.

As the Executive Director of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society (IMAS), Larry oversaw IMAS' Job Development Program--funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement--by providing direct services to newly resettled Special Immigrant Visa holders and refugees from Iraq; and he gained invaluable legal aid programming knowledge by managing IMAS' burgeoning immigration legal program, which is Recognized and Accredited by the Department of Justice's Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

In 2015, Larry brought his strong understanding of the BIA and legal program development to the Vietnamese Association of Illinois (VAI), where, as the Director of Program Services, he successfully obtained BIA Accreditation and Recognition for the agency and its staff and built a cohesive program model.

Larry was first introduced to CALA in 2017, when he collaborated with CALA's Executive Director, Lam Ho, on a proposal to bring much-needed legal aid to the immigrants and refugees on Chicago's Northside. Larry and Lam subsequently developed a comprehensive legal program at VAI which they named, the Community Empowerment Legal Clinic. Today the Community Empowerment Legal Clinic is CALA's largest legal aid partnership and the only comprehensive legal program on Chicago's Northside, providing direct legal aid to 550 community members from over 30 different countries.

Perla Tirado - Supervising Attorney


A native of Chicago, Perla Tirado is a graduate of Boston College in Massachusetts with a B.A. in Philosophy and Theology and a concentration in Faith, Peace, and Justice Studies. After graduating from College in 1998, Perla decided to volunteer for one year as a teacher for the Archdiocese of Boston. 

Upon her return to Chicago, she began working at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential facility, as a youth advocate and a case manager with youth who were considered “at risk.” As part of a life-long dream she held, Perla enrolled in law school and went on to graduate from DePaul University College of Law, in Chicago, where she obtained her Juris Doctor and a certificate in International Human Rights Law. While she was in law school, Perla travelled several times to Chiapas, Mexico as a human rights advocate and worked with several NGO’s in the region who serviced the indigenous population of Chiapas. In her second year of law school, Perla was chosen as a Sullivan Fellow for the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul. Perla also interned at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, where she was able to assist lawyers and judges in all aspects of cases pending before the Court. Lastly, Perla interned at the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender where, under a special license, she represented clients charged with felony cases, under the supervision of practicing attorneys. 

Perla was later hired as an Assistant Public Defender in Cook County and worked primarily in the Traffic Unit and Domestic Violence Division. A few years later, Perla would go on to open her own law office and focused her work primarily in Criminal Defense and Traffic Law. Finding that several of her clients were faced with severe immigration consequences as a result of their criminal arrests, Perla began working Immigration Law and now also helps families stay together by filing family-based petitions, Waivers, DACA petitions, VAWA and U Visas, and also represents clients in court facing deportation.

Perla is passionate about advocating for the rights of her clients and serving as their voice in a court system that is very difficult to navigate. She believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness and dignity no matter what charges they are facing in court or what their legal status may be. She is passionate about social justice issues and believes that with compassion, hard work, and creativity, it is possible to change the world for the better. Perla Tirado - Staff Attorney

Alison Heinen - Staff Attorney


Ali comes to CALA as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Exelon and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. She graduated from University of Denver-Sturm College of Law in May 2019. At University of Denver, she was a Chancellor's Scholar and interned with various legal service organizations including National Immigrant Justice Center and Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. She also served as an Articles Editor on Denver Law Review and president of DU's ACLU student organization.

Prior to law school, she spent three years as the Legal Intake Specialist at the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). Ali worked with a team of attorneys, organizers and policy staff to assist individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with legal issues concerning education, public benefits, and other civil rights.

Ali attended undergrad at Marquette University, where she was a Burke Scholar and was fortunate to spend six months living in Chile where she attended Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad Alberto Hurtado. While in Santiago, Chile, she also volunteered at an after school program for at-risk youth.

Darixza Rodriguez - Immigration Paralegal


Darixza Rodriguez is a new addition to our team. She is a Paralegal who obtained her Associates in Paralegal Studies from the College of Lake County. She worked as an Immigration Legal Assistant at Mano a Mano for two years, that was under the direct supervision of an Accredited Representative with the preparation and submission of immigration benefit applications to DHS/USCIS. She works directly with clients to gather and prepare documents and evidence. She also manages client communication throughout the process and translate documents from Spanish to English. Darixza is family oriented and self-driven, and when she isn’t glued to a computer she is spending time with her family.

Emma Melton - Staff Attorney


Emma is returning to CALA after graduating from DePaul University College of Law where she obtained a Certificate in Public Interest Law. Emma spent the past year externing with CALA focusing on immigration law and policy. During law school, Emma was the Student Director for DePaul’s Neighborhood Legal Assistance Project (NLAP) where she led a Saturday morning legal help desk for people experiencing homelessness. She continues her work with NLAP as a volunteer supervising attorney. Emma was also Vice President of the Public Interest Law Association and was instrumental in planning the annual auction to raise funds for students working in public interest law. Prior to coming to law school, Emma worked three summers at Cabrini Green Legal Aid where she immersed herself in criminal records law and ultimately decided to apply for law school. 

Hanan Van Dril – Staff Attorney

Hanan comes to CALA after three years in private practice, where she litigated civil rights cases in federal and state court.  Hanan graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2014 (J.D., magna cum laude) and from the University of California at Berkeley in 2009 (B.A. in English Literature). Prior to law school, Hanan spent two years as an elementary and language arts teacher in San Jose, CA.  During law school, Hanan served as an Editor of her school’s Law Review and as a Teaching Assistant for Legal Writing and Criminal Law. In the spring of 2013, Hanan served as a legal extern for the Honorable Matthew F. Kennelly, U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois. Hanan received the Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship in summer of 2013 for her work at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. During law school, Hanan also worked for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and as a 711 clerk for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. As an attorney and a 711 clerk, Hanan has conducted numerous bench and jury trials and appeals.  Hanan is a Palestinian-American First-Generation immigrant and a native Arabic speaker.

Harrison Banner - Executive & Operations Assistant


Harrison Banner joined CALA as the Executive and Operations Assistant in June 2019. A recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Harrison’s background in environmental advocacy and public policy has led him to pursue a career in nonprofit administration. As an undergraduate student, Harrison participated in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at WashU School of Law, providing research and administrative support to a team of faculty and student attorneys. He is eager to continue to develop these skills as a member of CALA’s Operations team.

Jacob Cantor - Intake & Workshop Coordinator


Jacob is excited to be a member of CALA’s team this year. With experience teaching and organizing with immigrant community organizations, he is excited to keep exploring the and enacting the mission of promoting justice oriented, community led initiatives. As a member of CALA, he aims to learn about how genuine collaboration between community organizations and lawyers can most ethically and effectively be leveraged to empower systemically disenfranchised individuals and groups. Jacob graduated from Tufts University with a BA in International Relations. He is a 2019-2020 Chicago Avodah Service Corps Member.

Jesse Cordero - Lead Volunteer and Language Coordinator

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Jesse Cordero was born in Poncitlan Jalisco, Mexico and came to Chicago in 1973 when he was 7 years old. He was raised in Little Village, where he graduated from Harrison High School.  He attended the College of Automation, where he studied computer science. After graduation, he worked at Sinai Hospital as a computer operator.  From 1985-1997, he was also enlisted in the United States Air Force Reserves, from which he received an honorable discharge. He and his brother started a well-received Mexican restaurant called El Sombrero in Chicago Heights. In 2004, he obtained his commercial driver’s license and has been driving trucks since. He returned to Little Village in 2010, where he has been an active community member. Since April 2014, Jesse has been an active, invaluable member of CALA’s Enlace Community Activism-Law Clinic team. He is very excited to be a part of CALA to help his community access legal services that otherwise most residents could not afford, and is very appreciative for CALA’s contributions to Little Village. He is very happy to volunteer as much of his time as possible to this great cause.

Jessica Hernandez – Of Counsel

Jessica Hernández was born and raised in the borderland area of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. As a first-generation American, daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, Jessica has a unique insight in the plight and struggles of the immigrant community. 

With a deep personal commitment to the community, she is dedicated to helping improve the lives of others both through providing legal services and volunteering with charitable organizations.

Before joining CALA, Jessica practiced in private firms based in El Paso, Texas and in Chicago where she practiced heavily in the fields of immigration and family law. Jessica earned her law degree from The Ohio State University and holds a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice from the University of Texas, El Paso. She has lived and traveled abroad extensively, and enjoys working with people of different cultures. As a law student, she studied comparative international law at University of Oxford in Oxford, England as well as human rights in Heredia, Costa Rica.

Karen Schweickart - General Counsel

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Karen Schweickart has served as legal advisor to top firms in the private sector for the past fifteen years.  She started her legal career at Kirkland & Ellis where she practiced for five years before moving in-house to Citadel LLC.  She worked at Citadel for nine years, rising to Deputy General Counsel, before leaving to be Senior Vice President and Head of Legal at Outcome Health.  She has a passion for problem-solving and helping organizations address legal issues in an efficient, ethical and practical manner. Karen is also deeply committed to empowering communities and advancing social change.   She serves on the board of Urban Initiatives, a non-profit which serves 17,000 children in Chicago’s low-income public schools. She was also selected to be a 2017 fellow with Leadership Greater Chicago, Chicago’s premier civic leadership organization.   Karen graduated with a B.A. in History from University of California Berkeley, Phi Beta Kappa and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago with honors where she was a Meacham Scholar and served on the Law Review.

Kevin Cruz - Staff Attorney

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Kevin graduated from the John Marshall Law School and passed the Illinois State Bar Exam in 2013. While in Law School, Kevin excelled in Trial Advocacy, and Fair Housing Law.  Kevin also served as President of the Asian-Pacific-American Law Students Association, and Vice President of the Fair Housing Law Association. After law school, Kevin became the Clinical Attorney Fellow and Supervising Attorney at The John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic, teaching more than seventy law student interns about Fair Housing laws, Fair Lending laws, and Civil Litigation, while reaching out to community organizations across the Chicagoland area. Kevin then moved on to private practice, specializing in Family Law, Consumer Protection, and Real Estate Transactions, gaining trial and litigation experience in these areas of law.

In his spare time, Kevin enjoys cooking, racing and restoring vintage and modern automobiles and motorcycles, and spending time with his wife, Jenifer, and dog, Chewie.

Matthew Holloway - Staff Attorney

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Matthew is returning to CALA after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School. While at the University of Chicago, Matthew worked with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project. Through this project, they were able to assist in the representation of juvenile criminal defendants, adult transfer defendants, and juvenile life without parole defendants. Additionally, Matthew helped represent a civil plaintiff in a police brutality case against the Chicago Police Department. Matthew was also a Summer ’17 intern for CALA where they assisted in administering CALA’s workshops and representing immigration defendants. Originally from Houston, Matthew received a BA from Rice University in The Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality in 2015. While an undergraduate, Matthew worked with LGBTQ workplace and community organizers on coalition building strategies to pursue changes in solidarity with other organizers seeking similar goals.

Saul Brand Padilla - Program Administrator

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Saul Brand Padilla was born in Mexico City and came to America when he was ten. He moved to Aurora, Illinois where he grew up. Saul is excited to join CALA as the Program Administrator where he is eager to expand his knowledge in legal aid and immigration law. His goal is to get his degree in nonprofit management, so he can continue to assist individuals who are negatively impacted by unjust systems.

In his freetime, Saul is a big fan of Rupaul's Drag Race. Also, Saul is very close with his family and can been seen spending the weekends back at home. Saul loves to travel and looks forward to one day visiting Italy and Spain.




Wally joined CALA as a Justice Catalyst Fellow in August 2018. Wally works with Chicago community organizations to challenge police misconduct through legal representation in police misconduct complaints and collaboration with grassroots organizers. As a law student, Wally led a student coalition supporting an activist campaign for a civilian review board in New Haven; coordinated a symposium of formerly incarcerated women organized by the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls; and organized legal observing actions, National Week Against Mass Incarceration events, and restorative justice workshops through his school's National Lawyers Guild chapter. He also served on his law school's Title IX Committee, where he successfully advocated for equity-based student evaluations of law professors. Wally is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School.