top of page
  • Writer's pictureCCIJ

Hear from the 2023 Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellows

Read below to learn about the experiences of the 2023 Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellows, Katherine and Genesis, and click here to support future fellows!

Picture of Katherine Tello in a green dress

Katherine Tello

Becoming a Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellow has been metamorphic for my legal career. The fellowship increased my zeal to dedicate my life to serving our immigrant community.


I had the honor and privilege of being placed in the best work environment anybody could ask for, at the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ). My colleagues and mentors were positive, resilient, and collaborative at all times. Every single staff member was incredibly passionate and truly embodied and envisioned CCIJ’s mission of abolition and freedom for immigrants in detention. The comradery I experienced through this fellowship revealed the important and meticulous work that can be achieved in a positive and collaborative work environment. In addition, having knowledgeable, fierce, and passionate mentors provided me with the guidance necessary to succeed in my fellowship.


During the summer, I engaged in both CCIJ’s legal services and advocacy work. I organized and summarized hundreds of grievances, our client’s formal complaints documenting the unsanitary living conditions, medical negligence, sleep deprivation, and other degradations he and others faced in immigration detention. In addition, I appeared in court and otherwise handled all aspects of a client’s bond hearing. The best part was getting to know the client and establishing a strong relationship with him. This helped me be able to tell his story for the first time. He was open with me about his recently diagnosed mental illness, which had started in childhood. I learned how multiple systems had failed our client since a very young age and continued to do so well into his 50s. Thanks to CCIJ and the Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellowship, our client had a fighting chance and a trusted advocate for the first time, after years of being detained.


Not only was my work on that specific case life changing, but I was impacted by all those I met during CCIJ’s legal clinics at detention centers. All the stories and experiences they shared were far too familiar. I heard about generational trauma, poverty, physical and verbal abuse, violence, mental illnesses, and much more. Each person I met and worked with reinforced that I will be dedicating my life to removal defense and our detained immigrant communities. Their strength, resilience, and dreams inspired me. I know with all the certainty in the world that I will dedicate my life to giving and helping those most in need. The Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellowship reinforced my goals and made them possible for me to achieve.

Picture of Genesis Ethridge in a black blazer.

Genesis Ethridge

I am proud to have been chosen out of 100 applicants to be the 2023 Valerie Zukin Fellow at Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD).  I was very determined to find a summer opportunity that would foster my excitement for something I'm truly passionate about: working with undocumented immigrants.  


While I have had work experience in various areas of immigration law, this was my first time representing a client in removal proceedings. It's an immensely challenging aspect of immigration work, as the clients are in imminent danger of being sent out of the country.  This fellowship provided me with the supervision and support to be able to confidently work with a detained client.  I prepared declarations, researched country conditions, collaborated with expert witnesses, drafted briefs, and represented our client at his immigration trial.


Our client is a Mexican national, “Manuel”, who spent two years in immigration detention after serving a five-year prison sentence. He  was deprived of his liberty for such a long time due to lack of adequate legal representation. On numerous occasions, both he and his family told me that working with us was the first time that they felt Manuel was receiving competent and expert legal representation. I am immensely proud to be part of his legal team and to have been able to offer him the best legal representation possible.


ILD came into Manuel’s life at the right time. He told me that he had given up hope and had told his mom not to go into more debt for him trying to pay for attorneys. However, one of ILD's attorneys conducted an intake with Manuel and ILD was able to accept his case for free legal representation. Many ILD  team members contributed to his case, making it a truly remarkable team effort. As a result, our client was granted Deferral of Removal under the Convention Against Torture.  He has been released from detention and is back to living safely with his family.


This fellowship proved to be a transformative experience for me. It allowed me to be more at ease with removal defense work. I still have much to learn and practice, but I'm confident that with time and dedication, I will be able to represent clients in proceedings for many years to come.


This fellowship exceeded all my expectations; it was truly one-of-a-kind. I want to express my immense gratitude to the generous donors and Valerie’s family and friends for their effort, which made this incredible experience possible. Valerie continues to have an impact on the immigrant community, and that is one of the best ways to honor her.

59 views0 comments


bottom of page