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As a proud association of the nation's finest immigration attorneys, it is our distinct pleasure to recognize and celebrate the individuals and organizations who have achieved excellence in immigration over the past year. We are honored to announce the winners of the 2020 AILA Annual Awards. Over the next two weeks, we will update this page to announce an award winner each day.
The categories are:
AILA recognizes Taylor Levy of El Paso, TX, with the 2020 Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award for outstanding service in advancing the cause of human rights.
Taylor Levy is an immigration attorney in El Paso, Texas. After a decade working with various nonprofits, she founded her own legal consulting firm dedicated to protecting the rights of asylum seekers arriving at our southern border. Ms. Levy currently provides pro bono legal assistance to asylum-seeking families who have been returned to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, under the "Remain in Mexico" program, formally known as the "Migrant Protection Protocols." She also provides education and advocacy around issues affecting asylum seekers on the border, including mentoring other attorneys, presenting at conferences, speaking to the press, and hosting professional delegations visiting the area.
AILA recognizes the LGBT Asylum Project of San Francisco, CA, with the 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Award for outstanding efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion excellence in the immigration legal profession.
The LGBT Asylum Project is the only San Francisco nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to providing accessible legal representation for LGBT asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status. Okan Sengun is the executive director and cofounder of the LGBT Asylum Project. Okan founded the LGBT Asylum Project on the basic human principle that no one should face imprisonment or death for being who they are or for who they love.
AILA recognizes Russell Abrutyn, of Berkley, MI, with the 2020 Edith Lowenstein Memorial Award for excellence in advancing the practice of immigration law.
Mr. Abrutyn is the AILA Michigan Chapter Treasurer. He chairs AILA's Amicus Committee and serves on AILA's Membership Committee and Message Center Moderator Committee. He also serves on the Michigan State Bar Immigration Law Section Council and the Michigan ACLU Lawyer's Committee. As counsel, co-counsel, or amici, he has successfully litigated Kada v. Barr, 946 F.3d 960 (6th Cir. 2020); Hernandez v. Whitaker, 914 F.3d 430 (6th Cir. 2019); Arangure v. Whitaker, 911 F.3d 333 (6th Cir. 2018); Shuti v. Lynch, 828 F.3d 440 (6th Cir. 2016); Matter of Ruzku, 26 I&N Dec. 731 (BIA 2016); Yousif v. Lynch, 796 F.3d 622 (6th Cir. 2015); Matter of Ordaz-Gonzalez, 26 I&N Dec. 637 (BIA 2015); Hanna v. Holder, 740 F.3d 379 (6th Cir. 2014); Pruidze v. Holder, 632 F.3d 234 (6th Cir. 2011); Zhang v. Mukasey, 509 F.3d 313 (6th Cir. 2007); Matovski v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 722 (6th Cir. 2007); and Pickering v. Gonzales, 465 F.3d 263 (6th Cir. 2006), among others.
AILA recognizes Lindsay M. Harris, Associate Professor of Law at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law, and Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, with the 2020 Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award.
Professor Harris supervises students representing D.C. community members in removal proceedings and applications for humanitarian immigration relief. She also leads service-learning trips to detention centers and the U.S./Mexico border.
AILA recognizes Wasden Banias LLC with the 2020 Jack Wasserman Memorial Award for excellence in litigation in the field of immigration law.
Wasden Banias LLC started in October of 2019 with goal of impacting immigration policy through litigation in federal court. Prior to entering private practice, both principals worked in the public sector. Jonathan Wasden worked as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorney, a Justice Department trial attorney for the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL), and the Administrative Appeals Office. Bradley Banias worked for two federal judges and the Justice Department's OIL-District Court Section. Still in their first year in existence, in February 2020, Wasden Banias LLC won an en banc case, undermining a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy harming children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile status.
AILA recognizes Sabrina Damast, of Los Angeles, CA, with the 2020 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award for her outstanding contributions made as a young lawyer in the field of immigration and nationality law.
Sabrina Damast is the founding attorney of Law Office of Sabrina Damast, Inc. Her practice focuses on removal defense, waivers, family-based immigration, humanitarian immigration, appeals, federal litigation, and post-conviction relief. She is the outgoing chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Immigration & Nationality Section; serves on the AILA Amicus Committee and AILA Removal Defense Section Steering Committee; is chair of the Due Process track for the 2020 AILA Virtual Annual Conference; and serves as an EOIR liaison for the AILA Southern California Chapter.
AILA recognizes BuzzFeed News' Hamed Aleaziz with the 2020 Media Leadership Award, given to individuals whose efforts in the media most accurately depict immigration and immigrants.
Hamed Aleaziz is an immigration reporter at BuzzFeed News, based in San Francisco, CA. Mr. Aleaziz joined BuzzFeed in 2018. Previously he had been a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle for four years. Earlier experience included the Daily Journal, the Center for American Progress, and Mother Jones.
AILA recognizes Sidley Austin LLP with the 2020 Michael Maggio Memorial Pro Bono Award for outstanding efforts in providing pro bono representation in the immigration field.
Founded more than 150 years ago, Sidley Austin LLP has a strong tradition of pro bono and public interest service. In 2006, Sidley formalized its long-standing commitment to pro bono representation of immigrants and launched its Political Asylum and Immigrants' Rights Project. The Project is a firmwide initiative through which Sidley attorneys provide pro bono legal services to immigrants in individual representations and impact litigation. Working with nonprofit organizations around the country, Sidley attorneys have helped countless immigrants seeking asylum and other immigration relief, including Special Immigrant Juvenile status. For more than a decade, Sidley has hosted pro bono immigration clinics to help asylees and refugees become lawful permanent residents of the United States and to be reunited with their family members.
AILA recognizes Kathleen M. Gillespie of Lexington, MA, with the 2020 Sam Williamson Mentor Award, in acknowledgment of her outstanding efforts and excellent counsel to immigration attorneys by providing mentoring assistance.
Kathleen M. Gillespie has been practicing immigration law since 2004. Earlier in her career, she worked as an associate at a Boston firm specializing in removal defense and post-conviction relief, and later acted as the interim supervising attorney at the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project at Boston College.
AILA recognizes Alexis S. Axelrad, of New York, NY, with the 2020 Susan D. Quarles AILA Service Excellence Award, in recognition of her outstanding service, over a period of years, in advancing the mission, development, and value of AILA for its members and the public it serves.
Born in New York City, Alexis S. Axelrad has almost two decades of experience in immigration and nationality law. Ms. Axelrad received her B.A. from the University of Maryland at College Park (1994.) After earning her J.D. from New York Law School (1997), she was admitted to practice in New York in 1998.
AILA recognizes Greg Siskind of Memphis, TN, with the 2020 Advocacy Award for outstanding efforts in support of AILA's advocacy agenda.
Greg Siskind is a founding partner of Siskind Susser in Memphis and has been practicing immigration law since 1990. He received his bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University and his law degree from the University of Chicago.