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Southern California native Caroline Dessert named executive director of Immigration Equality

NEW YORK — Caroline Desert, Southern California native and a former staffer at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, begins today as the new executive director of Immigration Equality, a nationwide organization that provides direct representation and advocacy for LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers.

A queer Latina originally from El Centro, California, Dessert is a lifetime advocate for social justice. She earned a J.D. from UCLA School of Law, focusing on public interest law and policy, and critical race studies.

Dessert joins Immigration Equality from the California Attorney General’s Office, where she was a Deputy Attorney General in the Public Rights Division. In 2013, she helped lead a suit against Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit schools chain. The suit charged that Corinthian engaged in a predatory scheme that targeted low-income, vulnerable Californians through deceptive and false advertisements that misrepresented job placement rates and school programs. Corinthian has since agreed to sell or close its more than 100 campuses across the country.

Dessert also served as Editor-in-Chief of the Chicano/a Latino/a Law Review at UCLA and was on the board of the Immigrant Rights Consortium in San Diego.

Before legal practice, Dessert worked in diverse communities advocating for social justice. At Planned Parenthood, Dessert worked to increase access to reproductive healthcare for low-income women of color and the LGBT community. Later, at the San Diego LGBT Community Center she advocated for local, statewide, and national LGBT policy, including a transgender inclusive ENDA and marriage equality. Her combination of policy, organizing, and coalition leadership efforts culminated in her role as a Regional Field Director for the historic “No On Prop 8” campaign. The ballot initiative shattered national fundraising records for a social policy initiative.

“Caroline brings great energy, and she is deeply committed to the fight to protect the LGBT community's most vulnerable individuals,” said Ray Fisher, board chair of Immigration Equality and Immigration Equality Action Fund. “We are thrilled that she is joining us. Caroline’s experience and contacts should prove central to maximizing our effectiveness throughout the entire country. We are confident that she will be a champion for all LGBT and HIV-positive persons trapped in the immigration system."

Dessert joins the organization during a time of growth. This year, Immigration Equality won asylum for its 600th client while retaining its 99% success rate. In 2013, it secured $16 million in free legal services across its national pro bono asylum program.

“Immigration Equality has a long history of being led by remarkable individuals and Caroline’s hire continues in that tradition,” said Aaron C. Morris, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. “As an attorney with years of experience in LGBT rights and a deep passion for immigrant justice, she brings exactly the right skill set to increase, enhance, and continue our great work.”

“I am thrilled to join Immigration Equality, an organization that has brought LGBT and HIV-positive people out of the shadows for decades,” Dessert said. “We will continue to grow our national asylum program, advocate for real solutions to our country’s broken immigration policies and practices, and expand Immigration Equality’s tradition of empowering LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants across the country.”

About Immigration Equality

Since 1994, Immigration Equality has been representing LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers, detainees, and binational couples, who are fighting for safety, fair treatment, and freedom. Immigration Equality represents people from around the world fleeing violence, abuse and persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Our team of legal experts has won asylum for more than 600 LGBT and HIV-positive individuals.

Immigration Equality Action Fund advocates for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive immigrants and their families. To end discrimination in U.S. immigration law, Immigration Equality Action Fund works to pass LGBT-inclusive Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The Action Fund lobbies legislators and other policy makers, builds coalitions, and empowers LGBT immigrants around the country to fight for change.