© 2019 by IRLC


In the Cincinnati area there is a critical gap in access to legal services for immigrant and refugees, which has been causing instability for families in our schools and our community.  Cincinnati is home to more than 25,000 refugees from countries such as Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq, Burundi, and Sudan.  There are also large numbers of immigrants from other countries, including more than 60,000 Hispanics. They often come to the U.S. to escape horrific conditions and save their children, and they contribute positively to our society. While many organizations have been working to create a resettlement infrastructure in our community, few agencies provide affordable legal services. The Immigrant and Refugee Law Center (IRLC) was created to work with the community to help fill this gap.

We are a community based nonprofit law office providing legal services to low income immigrant and refugee families through Community Learning Centers at Cincinnati Public Schools.

The Immigrant and Refugee Law Center provides its services through the generosity of individual and institutional donors, its experienced legal staff, the volunteer participation of lawyers and the broader community, the support of Community Learning Centers and other community partners, and students.   

Located in the International Welcome Center at Roberts Academy




The Immigrant and Refugee Law Center provides accessible legal services to immigrant and refugee families in the Greater Cincinnati community. 

Equal and trusted access to justice and legal services for immigrants and refugees in the Greater Cincinnati area and a more welcoming, safer, and more stable community for families. 




Executive Director


Julie Arostegui Leftwich is a passionate human rights lawyer who has extensive experience with immigrant and refugee issues.  She has worked locally, nationally, and globally to advance human rights and gender equality, most recently in conflict affected countries, and has a deep understanding of the issues facing these communities.  A native of Cincinnati, Julie is honored  to be able to return home and do work she loves to fulfill a community need.


Julie has worked with many nonprofit organizations including Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the U.S. Institute of Peace, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Women in International Security (WIIS), One Earth Future Foundation, and the International Association of Women Judges, and locally with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, End Slavery Cincinnati, and the World Affairs Council. 


Julie has held faculty appointments with the University of Denver and University of Colorado Boulder, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches human rights at the College of Law, and international women’s rights for the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.  She also serves on various boards and committees including the Hamilton County Commission on Women and Girls, Friends of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UC, the UC Law School Law Firm/Access to Justice Project, and the Immigration Committee of the Cincinnati Bar Association. 


Julie has managed programs in the U.S., Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa, and has advised, trained, and published extensively on gender, women’s rights, human rights, migration, women, peace and security, gender-based violence, and human trafficking.    


Julie is a graduate of Brandeis University. She received her J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Master in International Relations and Communication from the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.  She is fluent in Spanish and has reading knowledge of French.


Alexandria Lubans-Otto has extensive experience representing immigrants and refugees in all types of cases.  Prior to joining IRLC, she had an Immigration and Criminal Defense law practice in Northern Kentucky.


After graduating from the University of Kentucky, College of Law in 2002, she worked with the Kentucky and National Innocence Project followed by a Judicial Clerkship in Kentucky.  Alex then worked as a trial attorney, first for the Department of Public Advocacy and then for the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney's office as a Special Victim’s Prosecutor.  While with the Department of Public Advocacy, Alex was a co-creator of a Diversion Program aimed at lowering the recidivism rates among immigrant defendants.


Upon leaving government trial attorney work in 2007, Alex began practice in immigration law.   She opened her own firm, Alexandria Lubans-Otto, Attorney PLLC, in 2008 and continued with both a state and federal law practice, with a majority of immigration cases involving post-conviction relief and asylum defense.  She frequently appears before the Chicago, Memphis, Louisville, and Cleveland Immigration Courts.   She was the American Association of Immigration Lawyers (AILA) Liaison for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Liaison for Kentucky. 


Alex has also been a speaker and panel member for the Kentucky Bar Association, Northern Kentucky Bar Association, Department of Public Advocacy (KY) and AILA Midsouth, as well as local law schools and public interest associations.


Managing Attorney




President & Co-Founder

Community Learning Center Institute

Darlene Green Kamine is the founding Executive Director of the Community Learning Center Institute, a not for profit agency which is dedicated to the development of all schools as community learning centers, responsive to the vision and needs of each school and its neighborhood.   Previously she worked as a consultant to Cincinnati Public Schools to design, develop and implement the transformation of Cincinnati’s schools into community learning centers. Prior to her work with Cincinnati Public Schools, Kamine served for seventeen years as Magistrate of Hamilton County Juvenile Court where she organized the first dependency, neglect and abuse unit in the Court and overhauled practices and procedures which became the basis for new dependency law in Ohio.


Darlene is also the founder of ProKids, a nationally recognized child advocacy organization that provides volunteer guardians ad litem for abused, neglected and dependent children in the court system.  She was also a co-founder of the Children’s Museum of Cincinnati and served as the president of their board.  Her devoted voluntarism includes her service as President of the Junior League of Cincinnati, President of the American Bar Association Institute for Child Advocacy, and service on the boards of the Playhouse in the Park, Ohio Children’s Trust Fund Board, Brandeis University, Seven Hills School, and many other philanthropic organizations.  She is also currently serving on the boards of Grad Cincinnati, MindPeace, Children’s Oral Health Network, and Growing Well Cincinnati.


Darlene is the author or editor of numerous publications and articles about the juvenile justice system and was an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law. She has received numerous honors for her lifetime of professional and volunteer efforts on behalf of children.


Vice President

Multicultural Solutions LLC

Clara Matonhodze Strode is Principal Owner of Multicultural Solutions LLC, an Event and Digital Marketing small business in Cincinnati.

Prior to setting her sight on the business ownership path, Clara worked with several local and national institutions including Boy Scouts of America, National Council for Black Studies, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Museum Center and World Affairs Council. Her multi-talented and organizational development skills have helped her focus on issues dear to her heart - acting as a multi-cultural advocate for the African Community in Cincinnati.


Clara is a member the Cincinnati Chamber’s Diverse by Design and also a member of Mayor Cranley’s taskforce to make Cincinnati a welcoming City for new immigrants. She is an Ohio State Representative for the United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC)

Clara is an ex-officio but  active member with African Professionals Network (APNET), an organization that brings together professionals of African origin and individuals interested in Africa to network with each other, foster partnerships and give back to the community. Clara studied Speech Communications at Northern Kentucky University and is an alumnus of WE-Lead, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce Women leadership program. She has published articles on cultural integration and multiculturalism.


Board Secretary

Retired Partner
Wood Herron & Evans

Kurt L. Grossman was born in Youngstown, Ohio.  He graduated cum laude in 1978 from University of Cincinnati with a BS in Electrical Engineering, and graduated with honors in 1981 from George Washington University Law School.  Kurt served as a Technical Advisor to a Federal Appellate Judge from 1981 to 1983, after which he returned to Cincinnati.  He practiced law for 30+ years, most as a Partner, with the Cincinnati patent/intellectual property law firm of Wood, Herron & Evans until retirement in 2014. 


Kurt served on the Rights and Safety Committee of the Mayor’s Immigration Task Force, is Vice-President and Immigration Chair of the American Jewish Committee Cincinnati Region, is a member of the Immigration Task Force of the Catholic Diocese in Cincinnati, and is active with the Cincinnati Immigrant Dignity Coalition. 


Kurt also serves as a Board member of the Jewish National Fund Ohio Valley, is an alum of the FBI Citizens Academy, tutors in Cincinnati Public Schools and at Scholar House/Brighton Center (Northern Kentucky), and collaborates with the Cincinnati Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office on their policies in respect of foreign nationals.  Kurt is also a member of Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. and the Downtown Residents Council.


Board Treasurer

Brilliant Advice

Danya is a co-founder of Brilliant Advice, a financial planning and investment management firm. Her professional career has included working in accounting, finance, strategic planning, marketing and senior management. She has coached women on how to manage their finances as they face life changes. She has given lectures and workshops on personal finance, women in business and on how to develop diverse working environments.

Danya has served the Cincinnati community as a board member of Cincinnati YWCA, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Red Cross, The Economic Center of University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Ballet and BRIDGES for a Just Community.  She has been active in many other organizations in the Cincinnati area, including Bridges of Faith Trialogue, Cincinnatus, Cincinnati Women’s Club, Cincinnati Art Museum, Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, Alzheimer Association and Junior League of Cincinnati.

Danya was chosen as one of The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year for her charitable work, and she has been recognized by the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission and numerous community organizations.

Danya holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Kentucky.  She has received certification as an E-Commerce Manager and as a Financial Divorce Specialist and is a Certified Financial Planner.


Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University

James is the Director of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University, which has partnered with over 90 organizations locally, nationally and globally on interfaith, refugees, environment, foreign policy and neighborhood economic development. 


His teaching and research has focused upon comparative religions, global ethics, interfaith dialogue and the application of intercultural values to a range of issues connected with globalization. Before coming to Xavier University, he taught at Bucknell University, the University of Chicago, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and held chairs at The Rochester Institute of Technology and Hamilton College. 


James has delivered over 200 lectures and talks worldwide on issues ranging from interfaith relations; globalization; systems theory and global systems, refugee and immigration issues; comparative value systems; China and Chinese thought; ecology and biotechnology. He has served on numerous editorial boards and been involved in NGO work worldwide.


His recent work in Cincinnati includes: The Mayor’s Immigration Task Force, The Mayor’s Steering Committee for the Green Cincinnati Plan, Boards of RefugeeConnect, Bridges of Faith Trialogue, the Cincinnati Anti-Hate Coalition, and OMID. He is co-chair of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council. He has published articles and books on topics ranging from comparative ethics to the social and environmental impacts of technological change.

Steve served as a Member of Congress from Ohio's 1st Congressional District focusing on regional development issues, financial reform, and government accountability.  After Congress, he led the efforts of the United States Peace Corps in the African countries of Swaziland and Morocco, empowering youth and combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

Before serving in Congress, Steve served eight years in the Ohio Statehouse, and was elected by his peers to House Minority Whip.

Steve is an Elder High School grad. He received his B.A. from Miami University (OH) and his M.P.A. from Indiana University.

Though Steve has worked and served in city, state and federal government - and the campaigns associated with those - his true passion is community development, community relations and community empowerment.


Cincinnati Compass


Dinsmore & Shohl LLP

Mike Hawkins is a partner in the Labor & Employment and Appellate Practice Groups at Dinsmore.   He has extensive experience in all aspects of labor, employment law and ERISA litigation and appellate practice. 


Mike has argued two cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and many in-state and Federal Courts of Appeals. He has been selected by Best Lawyers as a top Labor & Employment lawyer every year since 1989. Mike is an arbitrator and mediator on the AAA panel.

Mike has a special interest in humanitarian law. He currently serves as Secretary to the Board of Refugees International, where he has participated in advocacy trips to Pakistan, Thailand, Kenya, Jordan, and Philippines.  He served as Vice Chairman of the International Committee of the American Red Cross, where he attended various international conferences and visited Israel, Palestine, Vietnam and Cambodia on American Red Cross Missions.


He has served the Cincinnati community on the boards of the American Red Cross Cincinnati past Chapter Chair and Board Member, Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, United Way and Community Chest, National Conference for Community Justice, and the Cincinnati Bar Association.



Frost Brown Todd

As Director of Professional Development at Frost Brown Todd, Alicia oversees all aspects of training, mentoring and career development for the attorneys across the firm's eight-state footprint. She works with Department Chairs and Practice Group Leaders to implement training to grow the practice specific skills of the attorneys and support department initiatives.  Alicia also sits on the firm’s Women's Initiative Steering Committee, the Diversity Committee, and the Advancement Committee.

Prior to joining Frost Brown Todd, Alicia held various roles in Professional Development and Talent Training and Development at an international, Am Law 20 firm in Boston, Massachusetts.  With a strong background and education in organization development, coupled with professional development experience in the legal industry, she helps attorneys develop, and thrive in their careers.  Alicia has also been active with the Junior League and RefugeeConnect.


Retired Chairman and CEO,

The Procter & Gamble Company


John E. Pepper, Jr. spent a 40 year career in various positions at Procter & Gamble, including Chief Executive Officer and Chairman from 1995 – 1999 and Chairman of the Board from 2000 – 2002.  He served as Director of Procter & Gamble from 1984 – 2003 and President from 1986 – 1995.


John currently serves as Honorary Co-Chairman of the Board of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and was CEO from January 2006 – May 2007. He served as Chairman of the Board of the Walt Disney Company from January 2007 through March 2012 and had served as a member of its board since January 2006.  He also served as Vice President of Finance and Administration at Yale University from January 2004 to December 2005.


John has devoted important effort over the past 30 years to Early Childhood and Youth Development.  He is a former member of the Cincinnati Preschool Program Board of Trustees.  He was a founding supporter of Every Child Succeeds, and was a co-founder and currently is an honorary member of the board of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, one of the nation’s most successful mentoring and tutoring organizations. 


Pepper graduated from Yale in 1960, where he served on the Board of the Yale Daily News.  He served as Fellow of the Yale Corporation from 1995 – 2003, including two years as Senior Fellow.


A native of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Mr. Pepper holds honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, Xavier University, Mount St. Joseph College, St. Petersburg University (Russia), the Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati and St. Joseph’s University.


Mr. Pepper and his wife Francie have four children and ten grandchildren and reside in Wyoming, Ohio.


Sittenfeld Consulting LLC

After a 30 year career in the investment industry, Paul Sittenfeld is a Consultant to Stuard and Thornberry, Robert Baird and Company. A graduate of Princeton University with a master’s degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles, Paul is an active volunteer locally and nationally with a special interest in educational institutions.


He has served on the boards of St. Xavier High School, The Seven Hills School, Hebrew Union College, Xavier University, and Bethany College. A past Trustee of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Anthem Foundation among many others, he is currently a board member of the boards of the Peterloon Foundation, Ensemble Theater Company, Garden Conservancy, New York, and board chair of the Fund for Independent Schools of Cincinnati. 


Paul and his wife, Betsy, are residents of Cincinnati. They have four children and six grandchildren.


HIAS Executive Board

Sandra has extensive experience in refugee issues. From 1977 to 1999 she held a leadership role, locally and nationally, in a movement dedicated to allowing free emigration of Soviet Jews. She has testified in federal removal hearings on behalf of Ukrainian Jews seeking asylum in the U.S.  and her reports have been accessed by Canadian, Australian and American immigration lawyers and were distributed to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

In 2005 Sandra became a founding Co-Chair of the Cincinnati Interfaith Coalition to Save Darfur. In 2006 she was elected to the Board of HIAS, an international refugee protection and resettlement agency, and currently serves on the Executive Committee.  She has chaired their national and international programs oversight committee, traveling to Chad, Uganda, Kenya, Latin America, Ukraine and Europe as well as a Taskforce on Immigration. She has attended the annual United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) meetings with its implementing partners in Geneva Switzerland as a member of the HIAS delegation for several years. 


Sandra has served on the boards of a number of philanthropic organizations and is a member of Xavier University’s 1812 Society, the Lion of Judah Society of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and the Board of Isaac M. Wise Temple. In 2014 Sandra was appointed to Mayor Cranley’s committee to make Cincinnati a more immigrant-friendly community. Most recently Sandra has been involved with Refugee Empowerment Initiative and Refugee Connect to serve the various refugee communities in our city.