Saluting AILA’s Women Trailblazers


As Women’s History Month concludes, the current women leaders of AILA’s national Executive Committee are honored to recognize some of the many women who have played a key role in the history of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and on whose shoulders we proudly stand. Our organization has benefited tremendously from the vision, intellect, passion, and dedication of AILA’s female leaders, past and present. It is right and fitting that we salute them this month.

Women have been active in AILA’s leadership since its founding in 1947. Our first woman president, Lena Orlow Ginsburg, served in 1954–an accomplishment that is all the more remarkable when you consider that the American Bar Association did not elevate its first female president until 1995.  She was soon followed by other equally accomplished lawyers, including Anita Streep, Helen Bertas, Esther Kaufman, and Edith Lowenstein. More recently, Polly Webber, Hope Frye, Denyse Sabagh, Margaret McCormick, Margaret Catillaz, Palma Yanni, Deborah Notkin, Carlina Tapia-Ruano, Kathleen Campbell Walker, Eleanor Pelta, Laura Lichter, Leslie Holman, and Annaluisa Padilla have all made unique and valuable contributions to our organization as AILA presidents. These amazing women hailed from all over the country and practiced various types of immigration law. For those who have passed on, their legacy is an inspiration. Those still living continue to make extraordinary contributions to the field and to this association. As women in the current leadership, we hope to emulate their commitment, dedication and passion for AILA and immigration advocacy.

AILA has also been fortunate to have had two outstanding female Executive Directors: Jeanne Butterfield, and Crystal Williams.  Both Jeanne and Crystal led AILA through significant periods of growth and changes during their tenure, and both have continued to shape and influence immigration law and policy since leaving the organization. Jeanne has served as special counsel to the Raben Group, advising on immigration law and policy. She has also served as an advisor to the National Immigration Forum. In 2003, AILA honored her with the Founders Award, based upon her substantial impact in the field of immigration law. Following a long and distinguished career that included not only 15 years of total service to AILA, but also work with the Policy & Planning Office of legacy INS and service as the director of the Legalization Assistance/Appeals Project for the American Immigration Law Foundation, Crystal officially retired in 2015. Most recently, she served as a co-editor of AILA’s 2nd edition of Business Immigration: Law & Practice. In 2017, AILA honored Crystal with the Susan D. Quarles AILA Service Excellence Award.

And the impact of smart, strong, inspiring women extends far beyond the AILA presidency and executive director leadership – to the national staff who help implement the organization’s mission, to the national committee volunteers who lend their expertise in every issue area from the immigration courts to the most arcane details of business immigration, to the chapter leaders around the globe, and to every AILA member.

AILA’s membership is now almost 60% women. We are solo practitioners, we are immigration law professors, we are nonprofit legal services providers, we are big firm lawyers, and we are in-house legal counsel. We are mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends.  We are passionate and fierce advocates for our clients and we are dedicated activists for fair and humane immigration law and policy.

As the current women leaders on AILA’s Executive Committee, we are humbled by and grateful to those who came before us and proud and excited to serve each and every one of you in these times of great challenge and opportunity.

Thank you!

Anastasia Tonello, President

Marketa Lindt, President Elect

Jennifer Minear, First Vice President

by Anastasia Tonello, Marketa Lindt, and Jennifer Minear