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Working with Domestic Violence Immigrant Survivors: The Intersection of Basic Family Law, Immigration, Benefits, and Housing Issues in California 2020


Speaker(s): Catherine Seitz, Christine Lin, Cindy C. Liou, Elisabet Medina, Hediana Utarti, Kemi Mustapha, Leah Chen Price, Lisa M. Newstrom, Mélody Saint-Saëns, Nancy K.D. Lemon, Nicole Ford, Renee Williams, Tanya Broder, Trina Chatterjee
Recorded on: Sep. 14, 2020
PLI Program #: 274928

Nicki Ford is a bilingual (Spanish) family law attorney in private practice after over 10 years in the non-profit sector, most recently over 6 years as a staff attorney for Bay Area Legal Aid.

A Bay Area native, she earned her BA and BS from Santa Clara University in 2002 and her law degree from UC Davis School of Law in 2005.  She began her work in the field of domestic violence in Aug. 2004 as a 3rd year law student at UC Davis where she worked at the Family Protection Clinic.

Following graduation, she went on to head the legal department at the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center (SADVC) where she was a certified DV and Sexual Assault counselor before heading back to the Bay Area to work at another non-profit, Family and Children’s Law Center as a bilingual staff attorney.

Finally, she returned home to the South Bay in 2009 when she joined Bay Area Legal Aid in May 2009 before moving on to private practice in Aug 2015.  Her practice currently includes family law, as well as representing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in criminal court and other civil matters.  She has recently been appointed through the county as a commissioner on the County’s Domestic Violence Council.

When not moonlighting as a lawyer by day, she can be found playing soccer, training for triathlons and Tough Mudders or simply hanging out with friends.


Renee Williams is a Senior Staff Attorney at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP). Renee focuses on fair housing and equal access to housing issues, including national origin discrimination, housing access for persons with limited English proficiency, nuisance and crime-free housing ordinances, and the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. Renee also leads NHLP’s initiative focusing on the housing rights of domestic violence survivors and the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act housing protections. During law school, Renee worked as a summer associate at Relman, Dane & Colfax in Washington, D.C., and as a summer law clerk at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Birmingham, Alabama. Before law school, she worked as a paralegal in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She graduated from Emory University and earned her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was a member of The University of Chicago Legal Forum journal.


Trina Chatterjee is a partner at MVTC Family Law. She is a certified family law specialist, certified by the California State Bar Association Board of Legal Specialization. Since 2007, Trina has practiced primarily in family law and appears in court regularly in all Bay Area counties, practicing primarily in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Trina conducted a legal clinic weekly for several years at the Alameda County Family Justice Center where she advised clients on domestic violence and family law issues. She is co-chair of the Alameda County Family Law Association. She presents regularly on family law issues for Practicing Law Institute and provides trainings in family law for local legal associations. She was on the Executive Committee for the Solo and Small Firm section of the California Lawyer’s Association. She is a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California, Alameda County Family Law Association, the Alameda County Bar Association, Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, and California Lawyer’s Association family law division. She is a past board member of Narika (a domestic violence helpline for South Asian survivors of domestic violence) and South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.

Trina obtained her J.D. from U.C. Hastings College of the Law and her B.A. from San Francisco State University. She lives with her husband and two children in Oakland, California.


Catherine Seitz is the Legal Director at the Immigration Institute of the Bay Area. She is a former Chair for the Northern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and co-author of the ILRC’s U Visa Manual. Catherine has a J.D. from U.C. Hastings and a B.A. in Latin American Studies from U.C. Berkeley. She has been working in the field of immigration law since 1990 starting out as a legal assistant and then a BIA Accredited Representative before her admission to the California Bar in December of 2001. Before joining the Immigration Institute in February of 2019, she worked at Legal Services for Children as their Legal Director and Bay Area Legal Aid as their Regional Immigration Coordinator where she focused on immigration relief for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Prior to that, she worked at Canal Alliance, the International Institute of the East Bay, and the private immigration law firm of Simmons & Ungar. She is bilingual in Spanish and English.


Christine is the Director of Training and Technical Assistance at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). Previously, she co-taught and supervised the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at UC Hastings College of the Law. Before joining CGRS, Christine served as the Legal Director of Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre and co-taught refugee legal assistance clinics at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prior to her time in Hong Kong, she represented clients at an immigration law firm in San Francisco. Through the Attorney General’s Honors Program, Christine began her legal career as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, at the Los Angeles Immigration Court. Christine received her J.D. from American University, her Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, and her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.


Cindy C. Liou, Esq. is the State Policy Director at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a national non-profit working to provide legal counsel to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children in the United States. Prior to this role, she served as the Deputy Director of Legal Services at KIND. Previously, she was the Director of the Human Trafficking Project at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, where she also co-counseled several civil litigation cases on behalf of human trafficking survivors, and represented survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. She continues to provide consulting and training on topics ranging from human trafficking, domestic violence lethality, to best practices on how to collaborate in cross-disciplinary teams to support survivors of violence. She is formerly the Co-Chair of the Policy Committee of the Freedom Network to Empower Trafficked and Enslaved Persons (USA), a network of over 40 individual and member agencies representing trafficking survivors, and the winner of their 2018 Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award. She is also the recipient of the 2013 San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking Modern Day Abolitionist Award for Policy and Advocacy. Cindy is the co-author of several articles, and has contributed to the manuals of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center's second edition of Representing Survivors of Human Trafficking, first edition of T Visas: A Critical Immigration Option for Survivors of Human Trafficking, and the fifth edition of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Other Immigration Options for Children & Youth. She previously handled a variety of pro bono cases at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC, ranging from asylum to police misconduct cases. Cindy is a graduate from Stanford Law School and the University of Washington.


Elisabet Medina is the proud daughter of Latino immigrants. She obtained both a Bachelors and a Masters in Social Work with an emphasis on community organizing. Elisabet is passionate about empowerment and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The focus of Elisabet's work has been with immigrant victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and child abuse. She currently works at the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing supporting families and youth experiencing homelessness.


Hediana Utarti joined Asian Women’s Shelter in 2000 and is currently its Anti Trafficking Program Coordinator/Community Advocate. Her tasks include managing and developing the program, providing direct services/intervention, and prevention/education. She also answers AWS crisis line weekly and involves in AWS’ Community Building programs and in-shelter support group facilitation utilizing Art as Healing to support survivors’ stabilization and recovery.

Previously she lived and worked in Honolulu, Hawai’i where she obtained her Ph. D in Political Science focusing on Culture and Politics. She started her community based anti-violence work in 1995, when she joined Family Peace Center in Honolulu as a Support Group Facilitator for survivors of domestic violence.


Kemi Mustapha is a Senior Staff Attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal), the largest provider of free legal services to low-income residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her practice is devoted exclusively to representing survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in all aspects of family law litigation, including restraining orders, divorces, and custody matters. She also represents immigrant clients in U-Visas and VAWA petitions.

Kemi completed a two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship at BayLegal’s San Francisco County Regional Office dedicated to expanding and improving the delivery of direct legal services to African-American domestic violence survivors. She spent several years working in BayLegal's Alameda County Regional Office before transferring to the Santa Clara County Regional Office in November 2017.

Kemi received her J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis and her B.A. from The University of Chicago.


Leah Chen Price is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Tahirih Justice Center’s San Francisco Bay Area Office. At Tahirih, she provides direct legal representation to courageous women and girls who are survivors of gender-based violence. Her immigration practice focuses on asylum, T and U visas, and protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Prior to this role, she was the Director of the Human Trafficking Project at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. She is a former member of the San Francisco Immigrants Rights Commission and a frequent speaker on immigration relief for victims of crime. Leah is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Hastings College of the Law.


Lisa Newstrom is Managing Attorney of Bay Area Legal Aid’s Santa Clara County Regional Office.  In her practice, Lisa has represented clients in matters regarding safety-net programs such as SSI, CalWORKS, Food Stamps, Medi-Cal and General Assistance.  Lisa serves on several regional task forces including the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking and the Santa Clara County Public Benefits Task Force.  She has served as faculty at Benchmark Institute and Practising Law Institute (PLI) and trained hundreds of attorneys, advocates, and social services providers on legal issues in public benefits, particularly for youth with disabilities, noncitizens, and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.


Mélody Saint-Saëns is the Immigration Regional Counsel at Bay Area Legal Aid. She oversees the immigration practice and provides technical assistance to staff and volunteers on various types of humanitarian relief for immigrant survivors. She has over 16 years of experience working with immigrant survivors. Mélody was admitted to the California Bar in 2004 and joined BayLegal as domestic violence and family law practitioner in 2005. She has represented clients in more than 400 family law hearings and trials, conducted more than 125 outreach sessions, and served on the firm's Language Access Committee. Mélody is a graduate of the University of Miami, School of Law. She is fluent in French and Spanish.


Ms. Broder specializes in the laws and policies affecting access to health care, public benefits, education and other services for low-income immigrants across the United States. She writes articles, provides technical assistance, co-counsels on litigation, and presents trainings to legal and social service providers, government agencies, legislative staff, educators and community-based organizations. Before joining NILC in 1996, she worked as a policy analyst for the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights and as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County in Oakland. Ms. Broder holds a juris doctor from Yale Law School.


Nancy K.D. Lemon has been a leading authority on domestic violence law for over three decades. A practicing attorney, she has also provided expert testimony in many types of cases. She has worked to craft many pieces of California legislation affecting survivors of domestic violence and their children. Since 1988, Professor Lemon has taught Domestic Violence Law and the Domestic Violence Practicum at UC Berkeley’s School of Law. She authored the first textbook on Domestic Violence Law in 1996, now in its 5th edition. In 2012, she co-founded the Family Violence Appellate Project, where she is the Legal Director.