OUR Staff

Executive Director Anne Pilsbury, Esq.

Anne Pilsbury founded Central American Legal Assistance in 1986 in response to the Salvadoran Civil War refugee crisis. Before CALA, she worked for the Center for Immigrants Rights and as a solo practitioner. She was the lead attorney on Hobson v. Wilson, a major civil rights Bivens action against the FBI and D.C. police "red squad" for COINTELPRO - aimed at preventing anti-war protests and black-white unity in D.C. during the 1960s and '70s. She has represented thousands of immigrants over her career as Executive Director.

Anne graduated with a J.D. from Antioch School of Law; holds an M.A. in Political Science from American University, and a B.A. from Penn State University. She sits on the Board of Directors of Brooklyn Legal Services, Corp. A, and is a cooperating attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is admitted to the D.C. Bar and the Bar of the State of Maine. She is also currently a member of the Bar of US Courts of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. She is fluent in Spanish.


Heather Axford, Esq.  - Supervising Staff Attorney

Heather Axford has been representing asylum applicants at Central American Legal Assistance since 2008 and is currently a senior staff attorney.  She represents primarily Central American trauma survivors facing deportation as well as victims of egregious constitutional violations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and indigent immigrants eligible for other humanitarian immigration relief. She practices regularly before the Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  She is an Adjunct Professor of Refugee & Asylum Law at New York Law School. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. She is fluent in Spanish.

Brian Mulligan - DOJ Accredited Representative 

Brian has worked at CALA since 1996. First as a paralegal and then as an Accredited Representative. He has been accredited by the BIA to represent in Immigration Court and before the Service since 2000. Before CALA, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire (now Congo) and taught high school social studies for four years. Brian holds a B.A. in English from SUNY New Paltz and an M.A. in Secondary Education from Adelphi University.  He is fluent in Spanish.

Hernan Posada - Paralegal

Hernan Posada is a Paralegal at CALA. He has worked at CALA since 1999. Hernan handles most of our adjustment filings. Before CALA, he was a Union Leader and lawyer specializing in labor law in Colombia. He is a graduate of Universid Libre, Colombia. He has three daughters and two grandchildren. He is fluent in Spanish.


Carlos Chavez - Receptionist

Carlos has greeted all who enter our doors since June 2000 as CALA's front desk receptionist and intake coordinator. Originally from El Salvador, Carlos lived there during the Civil War and came to the US after the Peace Accords in 1992. He became a US citizen in 2001.  He is the father of two kids.  He is fluent in Spanish


Paola Donovan, Esq. - Staff Attorney

Paola Donovan been practicing since 2015 representing asylum seekers and survivors of trauma in removal proceedings. Before joining CALA, Paola was a law clerk to the Honorable Stuart Peim, J.S.C. in the Superior Court of New Jersey. She originally joined as an Immigrant Justice Fellow. Paola received a Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School in 2014 where she was committed to the pro bono representation of immigrants while interning at the Immigrant Defense Project, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society. Her passion for immigrant rights began with her own experiences as a Peruvian immigrant in New York and Montreal. She is fluent in Spanish and French.


Michelle Martinez, Esq. - Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow

Michelle Martinez is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at CALA. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Her passion for advocating for immigrants and improving access to quality representation grew out of her experience assisting victims of immigration service scams. Michelle worked as a student attorney with BU Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and participated in a pro bono trip to Harlingen, Texas, where she worked on unaccompanied minors’ cases with ProBAR. Following her graduation in May 2014, she completed a year-long fellowship with the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, where she represented immigrants from a myriad of backgrounds in their pursuit of relief from removal. Between 2015-2017, she worked as an Attorney Advisor for the New York Immigration Court through the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Honors Program. 
Michelle graduated magna cum laude from Boston College with a B.A. in Political Science with
minors in French and International Studies.  She graduated cum laude from Boston University
School of Law.  She is admitted to practice in New York and Massachusetts. She is fluent in Spanish.

Cristian Vasquez - Part-time Receptionist

Cristian Vasquez is a part-time front desk receptionist at CALA. He is a Junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Sociology. Cristian is a Salvadoran national and was awarded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He is a strong advocate of immigrants' rights and hopes to pursue a rich career in non-profit work. He is fluent in Spanish.


Joan Fernandez -DOJ Accredited Representative/Paralegal

Joán comes to us from CARECEN-NY, where he was an Immigrant Justice Corps Community Fellow and BIA Accredited Representative, helping with their Special Immigrant Juvenile Status docket. Joán has his BA in Latin American History from Princeton University. He is fluent in Spanish.



Olivia Haas - Paralegal/DACA Program Manager

Olivia's passion for immigrant rights' grew when interning with CALA through the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. She graduated with degrees in Politics and Spanish from Converse College, where she developed skills advocating on behalf of others on the Student Government Association and the Spartanburg Hispanic Alliance, in Spartanburg, SC. She is fluent in Spanish.

Kathryn Madison, Esq. - Staff Attorney

Katie has been practicing since 2015 representing asylum seekers and survivors of trauma in removal proceedings. Before joining CALA, Katie was an Immigrant Justice Fellow. Katie received a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. She is fluent in Spanish.


Rebecca McBride, Esq. - Staff Attorney

Rebecca (Becky) has been practicing since 2013 representing asylum seekers in removal proceedings. Prior to joining CALA, Becky was the Director of Legal Services at Atlas DIY. Becky received her Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School. She is fluent in Spanish.


Ryan Clough, Esq. - Staff Attorney

Ryan has represented asylum seekers in removal proceedings since 2017. Before joining CALA, Ryan worked as an Immigrant Justice Fellow for RAICES where he represented detained families and adults. Ryan received a Juris Doctor from George Mason University. He is fluent in Spanish


Oscar Gerardi Caceres the Cat

Oscar enjoys greeting clients, inspecting files, and prowling the office as our security guard.

OUR Board


Lisa Reiner - Esq., - Chair

Lisa Reiner is the Associate Director of the Community Legal Resource Network at CUNY Law School. She holds a J.D. from CUNY Law and a B.A. from Reed College. A former CALA staff attorney, she has served on CALA's board since 2006.

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Harry Shulman, Esq. - Secretary

Harry Shulman is an attorney and former  commodity trader born and raised in New York City.  His law practice consists of helping pro bono immigrant children navigate their cases through immigration court.  He currently serves as the President of the Board of the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society.  He also serves on the CME Business Conduct Committee, hearing disciplinary actions brought by the exchange.  He came to CALA through it’s annual Brooklyn Half Marathon fundraiser.  He has two almost almost adult children, and can’t really believe it, three big dogs, and lives in Brooklyn.

Anne Isaak - Treasurer

Anne Isaak is the owner of Elio's restaurant in Manhattan. Ms. Isaak was a former sous-chef at Chez Panisse. She has served on the Board since 2008.


Jose Luis Rosa

Mr. Rosa is a Special Education teacher in Brooklyn. He has served as a member of the Board since 2001.

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Jose Ramos

Mr. Ramos works for the YMCA in their Finances Department. He has served on the Board since 2008.


Zachary Sanders, Esq.

From Portland, Oregon, Zach worked at CALA during law school and for a few years after as a staff attorney.  He has been working as an immigration lawyer for 15 years. Zach is a solo practitioner with a focus on removal defense and asylum.  He is a member of National Lawyers Guild, AILA.  He graduated from Cardozo Law School and University of Oregon.

Christina Chianese, Esq.

Christina is an associate at Sidley Austin LLP. Christina has experience litigating complex commercial matters  in federal and state court as well as international arbitration disputes under the aegis of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Prior to joining Sidley, Christina clerked for the Honorable Karen Nelson Moore of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Christina received her J.D. in 2010 from New York University School of Law, magna cum laude and Order of the Coif, where she was a notes editor for the New York University Law Review and both a Pomeroy and Allen scholar. Christina received her B.A. in 2007 from Georgetown University, magna cum laude.

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Elizabeth Plum

Elizabeth (Betsy) Plum is the Director of Special Projects at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), an umbrella immigration policy and advocacy organization with nearly 200 member organizations across New York State. At the NYIC, Betsy oversees several initiatives and campaigns to empower and integrate immigrant communities. Included in this work is Betsy's leadership on the “This is Our New York” campaign in response to the 2016 presidential election, adult education and workforce development policy, and the NYIC's Key to the City Initiative. Prior to joining the NYIC, Betsy was a staff member of CALA. She is a graduate of Bard College and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ellen F. Wachtel, JD, PhD

Ellen F. Wachtel, JD, PhD, is a psychologist in private practice. She has written numerous books and articles for therapists as well as for the general public and gives workshops both here and abroad. Since 2004 she has volunteered with various organizations to do psychological evaluations of asylum applicants. She is an adjunct faculty member of the Ackerman Institute for the Family. She received her JD from Harvard Law School and her PhD from New York University.