Keynote: Ambassador James Nealon, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (2017-2018) and U.S. Ambassador to Honduras (2014-2017)

James D. Nealon retired in 2018 after 34 years with the federal government – 33 as a Foreign Service Officer, and the last year at the Department of Homeland Security. His recent assignments included Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at DHS; U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 2014 to 2017; and Civilian Deputy to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami from 2013 to 2014. Nealon served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Ottawa, Lima and Montevideo, and as Charge d’Affaires in Montevideo from 2005 to 2006. He also served overseas in Chile, the Philippines, Hungary, and Spain in various public diplomacy positions. He is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in History. Jim and his wife Kristin, a teacher, have been married since 1982 and have four adult children. They currently live in Exeter, New Hampshire where Jim writes and speaks on immigration and U.S. policy in Central America, and prepares to ride his bicycle across the United States beginning on June 2.




Event Chairs

Giovanni Zanalda, DUCIGS
Sarah Bermeo, DCID
Amb. Patrick Duddy, CLACS




Panel Participants

Sarah Bermeo, Associate Professor of Political Science, Associate Director of the Duke Center for International Development

Sarah Bermeo is associate professor of public policy and political science in the Sanford School at Duke University and associate director of the Duke Center for International Development. She has published articles on foreign aid, trade agreements, and migration that have appeared in International Organization, Journal of Politics, and World Development. Bermeo is author of Targeted Development: Industrialized Country Strategy in a Globalizing World (Oxford, 2018). Her ongoing work focuses on the design of international development institutions as well as on the drivers of migration from Central America. She is a contributor to the Future Development blog at Brookings Institution and her commentary has appeared in media outlets around the world.

Jennie Bragg, Communications Director, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition

Jennie Bragg joined USGLC from Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, where she served as manager of North American communication. Prior to joining Gavi, Bragg held various roles in writing and media relations, including a year-long communications fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. She spent the early part of her career as a producer at CNN in New York.

Denise Brennan, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University

Denise Brennan is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology and faculty co-founder and co-director of the Gender + Justice Initiative. Her scholarship focuses on trafficking, sex work, policing, migration, and women’s labor. During 2018-19 she is a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton where she is writing a book on undocumented life in the United States. 

David Cronin, Government Affairs Specialist, Catholic Relief Services

David Cronin is a Government Affairs Specialist at Catholic Relief Services. Based in Washington, D.C., David works with Congress and the Administration to advance CRS’ public policy and advocacy efforts related to the foreign assistance appropriations process; Latin America & the Caribbean; and vulnerable people on the move. Prior to CRS, David worked in campus ministry at St. Joseph’s University and served as a Jesuit Volunteer at Homeboy Industries. He holds an M.A. in development economics and human security from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a B.A. in theology and history from Boston College.

Steven Dudley, Co-Director and Co-Founder, InSightCrime

Steven Dudley is the co-director and co-founder of InSight Crime. Dudley is a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington, DC. He is the former Bureau Chief of The Miami Herald in the Andean Region and the author of “Walking Ghosts: Murder and Guerrilla Politics in Colombia” (Routledge 2004). Dudley has also reported from Haiti, Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba and Miami for National Public Radio and The Washington Post, among others.

Victoria Gass, Central America Policy Advisor, Oxfam America

Vicki Gass has been working on Central American social and economic justice issues since 1984, and has lived in both El Salvador and Honduras.  From 1999-2001, she led regional advocacy efforts in Central America following Hurricane Mitch for WOLA and Oxfam America.  At the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Ms. Gass directed the Rights and Development program, which focused on the relationship between human rights, economic development and US policy. She followed foreign aid and trade policy, with a special emphasis on poverty reduction, labor rights and the rural sector in Latin America. At Oxfam America, Ms. Gass is the Senior Policy Advisor to Central America and Mexico, advocating for policy issues of concern to the region in Washington, DC such as fiscal reform and tax justice, gender equity, migration and sustainable rural development.

Mary Giovagnoli, Executive Director, Refugee Council USA

Mary Giovagnoli brings more than twenty years of experience in refugee, asylum, and immigration law and policy to her position at RCUSA.  Most recently, she served as the senior director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. From February 2015 to January 2017, Giovagnoli held the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration Policy at the Department of Homeland Security. Giovagnoli began her legal career as a Department of Justice Honors Attorney with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, later joining the INS General Counsel’s office as a member of the Refugee and Asylum Law Division, and, following the creation of DHS, continued to serve in that role at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Following several years as the senior adviser to the director of congressional relations at USCIS, Giovagnoli was detailed to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007 to assist in comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

Cindy Huang, Co-Director Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy, Center for Global Development

Cindy Huang is co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy and a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. She works on issues related to refugees and displacement, fragile and conflict-affected states, gender equality, and development effectiveness. Previously, Huang was deputy vice president for sector operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation where she led the strategic direction and technical oversight of a $2 billion portfolio of social sector investments. She also served in the Obama Administration as director of policy of the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and as senior advisor to the State Department’s counselor and chief of staff.

Christopher Inkpen, Research Sociologist and Demographer, RTI International

Christopher Inkpen is a research sociologist and demographer in the Division for Applied Justice Research at RTI International. At RTI, Dr. Inkpen leads research and data collection for several projects focusing on criminal justice and security in Central America. His scholarship centers on migration and security in the Northern Triangle and the application of machine learning methods to social science issues. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Institute of International Education, and the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Tal Kopan, Washington Correspondent, San Francisco Chronicle

Tal Kopan is the Washington Correspondent for The San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, she was a political reporter for CNN Politics, where she covered immigration, cybersecurity and other hot-button issues in Washington, including the 2016 presidential election. Prior to joining the network, Kopanwas a reporter for POLITICO in Washington, D.C., where she reported for their breaking news team and policy verticals. While covering policy, she was a reporter for POLITICO Pro Cybersecurity, where she covered cybersecurity policymaking on Capitol Hill and followed cyber-related issues in the Justice Department such as cybercrime. Kopan also previously worked as a Web producer at Fox Chicago News and as a freelance Web producer at ABC 7 Chicago, where she spent time covering stories such as the trials of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the election of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Dara Lind, Senior Reporter, Vox

Dara has covered immigration in some form for about a decade, stretching back to college (when she observed immigration court proceedings for her senior thesis). A Vox reporter since the site launched in 2014, she’s become one of the country’s leading immigration reporters. Her explainers, policy scoops, big-picture analyses of the political landscape, and human-interest features are all rooted in the understanding that people need to understand policy to make important decisions about their own lives. She refuses to choose between clarity and nuance. When not covering immigration, Dara’s explained everything from federal data on police shootings to the enduring appeal of “moving to Canada” fantasies, She also hosts Friday episodes of The Weeds alongside Matt Yglesias and Jane Coaston. Dara has not given up on her dreams of commuting by jetpack. 

David Leblang, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

David Leblang is the Ambassador Henry Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia where he is also a faculty associate at the University’s Miller Center. He currently serves as professor of public policy at the University’s Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy, where he is director of the Global Policy Center. A specialist in political economy with expertise on global migration, Leblang has served as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund, The Directorate of Finance and Economics of the European Commission, and the Department of Defense.

Kenneth Maffitt, Academic Program Coordinator, Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Kenneth Maffitt holds a Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of California-San Diego and a M.A. in Latin American Studies from Stanford University. A former Fulbright Fellow in Mexico, he has taught for and contributed to programs related to Latin American Studies and American Studies at Duke, Oregon State, Kennesaw State, and other universities. Maffitt is a former print and radio journalist who has published articles and reviews on Mexican history, Latino immigration, film, and music, and he enjoys cycling, travel, and nature. He will discuss the relation between economic change, labor and employment, local and international migration, and violence in the NT over the last couple of decades and discuss emblematic successful and unsuccessful government and grassroots attempts to address problems.

Katharina Obser, Senior Policy Advisor, Womens Refugee Commission

Katharina Obser is a senior policy advisor in the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Migrant Rights and Justice program, where she advocates for the rights of women, children and families seeking protection. An expert on U.S. immigration detention, she writes and presents frequently on immigration detention and refugee protection issues and has researched and authored numerous reports on asylum and detention in the United States as well the European refugee response. She advocates on a national level on asylum, immigration detention, and enforcement policies and reforms affecting refugee women and children.

Michael Paarlberg, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University

Michael Paarlberg is an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He is also an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. and a contributor to The Guardian. His current book project is on transnational elections and diaspora politics in Mexico, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. His work has appeared in outlets including the Washington Post, the New Republic, and El Faro. He has also worked with the Service Employees International Union, Center for American Progress, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the Organization of American States, and frequently serves as an expert witness in Central American immigration and asylum cases.

Cristobal Ramón, Senior Policy Analyst, Bipartisan Policy Center

Cristobal Ramón is a senior policy analyst with BPC’s Immigration Project. Before joining BPC, Ramón served as a research consultant on immigration integration issues with the National Immigration Forum. As a graduate student, he also interned with the Migration Policy Institute, the German Marshall Fund’s Migration Program, and the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Ramón is a magna cum laude graduate of Macalester College as well as a graduate of the Master of Arts in International Affairs Program at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focused on comparative U.S.-E.U. immigration policy. Ramón also researched Spain’s immigration policy as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Madrid, Spain.

Rachel Schmidtke, Program Associate, Wilson Center, Mexico Institute

Rachel Schmidtke is the program associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Rachel plays a key role in the development of the Mexico Institute’s migration portfolio. Prior to joining the Wilson Center, she conducted research at Duke University on Northern Triangle migration, developing policy solutions for the United States and Mexico. She previously worked as part of the World Bank Gender Group, as well as at the United Nations World Food Programme in Lima, Peru and USAID in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Clare Ribando Seelke, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, Congressional Research Service

Clare Ribando Seelke is a Specialist in Latin American Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. CRS is a non-partisan research agency that serves the Members and Committees of Congress and their staffs that is located in  the Library of Congress.  Ms. Seelke came to CRS in 2003 as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF). As part of her fellowship, she completed rotations with the State Department in the Dominican Republic and with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington D.C.  She currently focuses on  Mexico, Venezuela, and Central America, with a special focus on security issues and migration. During her tenure at CRS, Ms. Seelke has published numerous reports and confidential memoranda on both country-specific and regional issues in the Western Hemisphere.

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, Associate Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto is an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, where he provides quantitative research support across MPI programs. He also manages MPI’s internship program. His research focuses on the impact of U.S. immigration policies on immigrants’ experiences of socioeconomic integration across varying geographical and political contexts. More recently, he has analyzed methodological approaches to estimate sociodemographic trends of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States.

Katie Tobin, External Relations and Protection Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Giovanni Zanalda, Director, Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS)

Giovanni Zanalda is currently director of the Duke University Center for International & Global Studies, the John Hope Franklin Center, faculty director of the Karsh International Scholars Program, director of graduate studies for the Interdisciplinary European Studies Graduate Certificate Program, and former director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute. Zanalda is an Associate Research Professor at Duke University in the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), the Department of Economics, and the Department of History. He is an economic historian specialized in the history of the international economy, finance, and development. He teaches courses on financial crises, emerging markets, international economy (1850-present) in the Department of Economics, and on the history of globalization in the Sanford School of Public Policy.