Christine Ahebwa
Paralegal

Christine Ahebwa was born in Uganda, Africa, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree from Makerere University before relocating to the U.S. She has worked in the immigration law field for more than six years. In her free time, Christine likes to read books and bike with her family.

Jesse Blackley
Paralegal

Jesse Blackley graduated from North Carolina State University with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Criminology. She has worked in the immigration law field since 2017. In her free time, Jesse loves spending time with her family and friends and going to the beach.

Bjorn Burk
Paralegal

Bjorn Burk graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies. Outside of the office, Bjorn loves to run, hike and backpack. Prior to starting with the Firm, he completed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail starting from the Mexican border and finishing in Canada.

Alin Ruiz Carmona
Paralegal

Alin Ruiz Carmona graduated from Johnson C. Smith University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Alin was drawn to the immigration law field because of her own experience moving from Mexico to the United States when she was 7 years old and her desire to educate and help the immigrant community. When she’s not working, Alin enjoys reading, drawing and spending time outdoors.

Alena Casares
Paralegal

Alena earned a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University with a double-major in Spanish and Public Policy Studies, with a concentration in immigration policy. The granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, Alena grew up on a farm near Nashville, TN, and has volunteered extensively with immigrant communities in Tennessee, Texas and Argentina. In her free time, Alena enjoys exercising, going to the movies and writing short stories.

Deepashree Chitre
Paralegal

Deepashree (Deepa) Chitre earned Bachelor of Law (LLB) and Bachelor of Science degrees in her native India prior to naturalizing in the U.S. Following completion of paralegal studies, she chose to pursue a career in immigration law to make a direct and positive impact on the lives of immigrants. She developed deep expertise in multiple immigration fields through almost 10 years of experience prior to joining Garfinkel Immigration. Deepa is fluent in the Indian languages Marathi and Hindi and conversant in Tamil. Deepa is proud to be part of the non-profit music group Hidden Gems that raises funds for organizations supporting the disadvantaged.

Laura Crawford
Case Manager

Laura Crawford earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Fayetteville State University. Laura is fluent in Spanish and enjoys travelling, cooking, exercising and spending time with her family and friends.

Buffy K. Dover
Senior Paralegal

Buffy Dover earned a degree in Legal Secretarial Studies from Kings College and has worked in the immigration law field since 1997. Buffy enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters, reading and exercising.

Stephanie R. Dukes
Accounting Lead

Stephanie Dukes graduated from King’s College with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. As our accounting lead, Stephanie is responsible for accounts payable, accounts receivable and others. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys shopping, traveling and hitting the open road in her Jeep Wrangler.

Ladonna B. Ferguson
Front Desk Receptionist/Administrative Coordinator

Ladonna Ferguson has seven years of office management experience. She has a loving husband and immensely enjoys gardening.

Sean M. Flanagan
Paralegal

Sean Flanagan earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In college, Sean played trumpet for four seasons in the UNC Marching Tar Heels and Carolina Pep Bands. Sean has been working in the legal field since 2012. He enjoys reading, writing, playing sports (especially soccer and basketball), cheering for the Carolina Panthers, lifting weights and having fun with his family and friends.

Sherry Fuertes
Case Manager

Sherry Fuertes attended Gaston Community College and acquired more than eight years of paralegal experience in immigration, including removal defense and asylum cases, prior to joining Garfinkel Immigration in January 2019. Sherry focuses on family-based immigration. Although born in the U.S., Sherry spent her formative years living with her parents in Mexico. During her free time, Sherry enjoys traveling, spending time with family, reading, photography and hand lettering.

Brianne A. Goethe
Paralegal

Brianne Goethe graduated from Hampton University in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Political Science. Outside of the office, Brianne enjoys traveling.

Emily Gray
Paralegal

Emily Gray graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Spanish, along with a minor in Philosophy. Following graduation, she volunteered with Jesuit Volunteer Corp International in Tacna, Peru, where she taught social justice/human rights in English at a local Jesuit High School. Emily has more than four years of experience as an immigration paralegal and in her free time she enjoys yoga, traveling, reading as well as listening to podcasts.

Jill Grosse
Administrative Assistant

Jill Grosse graduated from Kings College and has extensive experience working with administrative support, returning to the field after taking time to raise her children. When Jill’s away from the office, she enjoys exercising and attending events with her book clubs.

Shannon Hurleigh
Paralegal

Shannon Hurleigh graduated from Texas Tech University with a Master of Fine Arts and completed the Paralegal Certificate Program from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. When she is away from the office, Shannon enjoys supporting local arts and spending time with her family.

Gilbert Jean-Louis
Paralegal

Gilbert Jean-Louis graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with Bachelor’s degrees in History and Political Science. He also completed advanced course work in Accounting, Mathematics and Computer Science. Gilbert is a native of New Jersey and a first-generation son of an immigrant family. When away from the office, Gilbert plays basketball, soccer and volleyball.

Jami Kennedy
Paralegal Team Lead

Jami Kennedy earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Jami has worked in the immigration law field, specializing in employment-based immigration, since 2006.

Adriana Miranda
Paralegal Team Lead

Adriana Miranda earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Florida International University and an MBA from Augusta State University. Adriana began working in the immigration law field in 2002 and is fluent in Spanish. In addition to spending time with her husband and four children, Adriana loves movies and anything entertainment.

Jessica Normand
Paralegal

Jessica Normand graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with Bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. Jessica began working in the immigration law field in 2017. Prior to becoming a paralegal, she served as an AmeriCorps member, helping newly arrived refugees adjust to life in the U.S. In her free time, Jessica enjoys studying Brazilian Portuguese and dancing (Samba, Salsa, Belly Dance).

Renée O
Case Manager

Renée O earned her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and French from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Translation Studies from New York University. Renée is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Senegal. She is fluent in French and highly proficient in Pulaar (a dialect of the Fulah language).

Tess Pacheco
Paralegal Team Lead

Tess Pacheco attended California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in International Business. Tess has worked in the immigration law field as a paralegal for almost 10 years. When she’s not at the office, Tess enjoys playing volleyball and spending time with her children.

Haley Painter
Paralegal

Haley graduate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and German. Haley was drawn to immigration law by a motivation to help people and as an opportunity to use her German language skills. She enjoys reading and musicals.

Elisabeth R. Perez
Senior Paralegal

Elisabeth Perez earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Queen’s University. Elisabeth loves learning new languages, participating in 5k’s for a good cause and traveling abroad with humanitarian aid teams.

Yessenia Portillo
Paralegal

Yessenia Portillo is originally from Bogota, Colombia. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Connecticut. She joined the firm in 2017 and has assisted on family-based and employment-based immigration cases. In her free time, Yessenia enjoys live music events and spending time with family and friends.

Cynthia Real
Legal Assistant

Cynthia Real earned a Bachelor of Science degree from East Carolina University. She was drawn to the Firm based on a strong sense of purpose to help immigrants overcome barriers and fulfill their potential for meaningful and productive lives. A native of New York, Cynthia is fluent in Spanish; enjoys water sports and photography; and is fur mom to a Yorkie.

Anne M. Scheffel
Paralegal Team Lead

Anne Scheffel earned a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Anne has more than 15 years of experience in immigration law.

Debbie E. Sigmon
Client Relationship Manager

Debbie Sigmon earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and has worked in the immigration law field since 1987. Debbie enjoys traveling to Savannah and Asheville and spending time with friends and family, especially her two nieces and nephew.

Beth R. Tart
Paralegal Team Lead

Beth Tart earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts Business Administration from Furman University.  She has worked in the immigration law field since 1996. Beth enjoys camping, hiking, coaching small group leaders at her church and attending sporting events (especially football).

Geraldine Toste
Paralegal

Geraldine Toste graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a Juris Doctor degree and earned a Master’s degree in Archaeology from the University of London. When she is not working, Geraldine loves to travel. She also finished the Chicago Marathon in 2017 and is new to the knitting world. Geraldine is bilingual (Spanish and English) as well as proficient in French.

Ronald P. Townsend
Chief Operating Officer

Ronald (“Ron”) Townsend is a graduate of Wake Forest University who served 31 years in the U.S. Navy as a fighter pilot, a squadron commander, a base commander and a diplomat. He lived in Santiago, Chile and worked at the U.S. Embassy there as the Senior U.S. Defense Official in Chile for three years. As our firm’s Chief Operating Officer, Ron oversees the day-to-day operations of the firm in addition to managing the firm’s operating and information systems. In his free time, Ron enjoys snow skiing as well as playing golf and racquet sports. He also serves on various nonprofit organization boards.

Kiersten L. Trismen
Administrative Team Lead

Kiersten Trismen graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts/Restaurant Management from Johnson & Wales University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As the firm’s Administrative Team Lead, Kiersten supervises all day-to-day operational tasks. Her favorite hobbies in her free time are reading and growing her large collection of books.

Tiffany M. Tucker
Senior Paralegal

Tiffany Tucker earned a degree in Legal Secretarial Studies from Kings College and has worked in the immigration law field since 2006. Tiffany enjoys spending time with family and friends, trying out new recipes, cheering for the Carolina Tarheels and volunteering with the Charlotte Ronald McDonald House.

Clara Vengoechea
Paralegal

Clara Vengoechea graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. She was drawn to the immigration law field because of her own experience immigrating to the U.S. from Colombia with her family when she was 7 years old. In her free time, Clara enjoys working on arts and crafts and cooking.

Dennis Villalta
Paralegal

Dennis Villalta has a degree in Paralegal Studies from Keiser University and experience working for immigration law firms across the country. He enjoys working in the immigration law field because of the constant challenges requiring new approaches and creative solutions for each individual client. When he’s away from the office, Dennis enjoys weightlifting and the martial arts (specifically Muay Thai and jujitsu).

Taylor West
Paralegal

Taylor West graduated from Wake Forest University with a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She was drawn to the immigration law field as a result of her own family’s immigrant story and by her confidence that every space benefits from diversity in thought, experience and culture. When she’s not working, Taylor enjoys kayaking, swimming and volunteering at the local community shelter.

Camila Yupanqui
Paralegal

Camila Yupanqui graduated from Wake Forest University with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Her family immigrated to the United States from Peru when she was 4 years old and she spent her formative years in Huntersville, North Carolina. Outside of the office, Camila enjoys reading, writing and volunteering for non-profit organizations that focus on providing resources to immigrant and refugee communities.

EJay Zarett
Content Marketing Manager

EJay Zarett graduated from Syracuse University with a Master’s degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism. He became interested in joining Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm because he wanted his work to be impactful and make a difference. When he’s not in the office, EJay enjoys reading and playing basketball.