Speaker Bios

List of 2020 GRITS Conference Speakers:


Chito Vela | Walker Gates Vela

Panel: Immigration Detention and “Crimmigration” Panel

Jose “Chito” Vela III is originally from Laredo, Texas, and currently has his own Austin-based firm, Walker Gates Vela. Chito focuses on litigation, particularly criminal and immigration defense and the relationship between the two.


Christine Valenzuela | National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United

Panel: Labor organizing in the South and Southwest

Christine has been in healthcare for 12 years and has worked as a registered nurse (RN) for 10 years.  She is currently a nurse representative and a peer-elected negotiator for the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, and she was part of the team that negotiated the first ever union contract at her hospital in Tucson, Arizona.


Donna HowardTexas House of Representatives

Workshop: Understanding Texas Legislation

Representative Donna Howard has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2006. She is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and sits on its Article III Subcommittee which oversees education spending in the state budget. Donna serves as Vice Chair of the House Administration Committee, and is also a longtime member of the Higher Education and House Administration Committees. A native of Austin, Donna earned a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and a Master’s degree in health education from the University of Texas. She worked as a critical care nurse at Brackenridge and Seton hospitals, and served as Austin’s first hospital-based Patient Education Coordinator. Donna is a past president of the Texas Nurses Association (District 5) and was a health education instructor at UT. Donna was elected to the Eanes ISD board in West Austin for the 1996-1999 term. She has served on the boards of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, Common Cause Texas, Texas Freedom Network, and the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She now serves as a board member of the Expanding Horizons Foundation, supporting low-income housing and education.


Emily Gerrick | Texas Fair Defense Project

Panel: Punishment Without Guilt

Emily Gerrick focuses on Texas Fair Defense Project’s Criminal Justice Debt Initiative. Through litigation and legislative advocacy, she works to reduce court costs and stop jurisdictions from incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fees and fines. Emily joined TFDP as a Liman Fellow in 2014. Her past experiences include providing direct legal assistance to prisoners in long-term solitary confinement, drafting motions and writs in federal criminal cases, and investigating inhumane conditions in Alabama, Connecticut, and Texas prisons. Emily is a graduate of Yale Law School and the University of California at Los Angeles. In law school, she was a member of the Capital Punishment Clinic, the student-director of the Detention and Human Rights Clinic, and a convener of the Criminal Justice Theory and Practice Workshop.


Jennifer Scarborough | ProBAR

Panel: Immigration Detention and “Crimmigration” Panel

Jennifer Scarborough is a staff attorney with ProBAR’s adult office in Harlingen, Texas where she represents adults detained along the South Texas border. She assists both new arrivals seeking asylum as well as long-time residents of the Rio Grande Valley. Jennifer graduated from DePaul University College of Law. During her four years in law school, she worked full time as a partially accredited DOJ representative with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.


Katrina Black | RAICES

Panel: Immigration Detention and “Crimmigration” Panel

Katrina Black is currently an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at RAICES. She is a recent graduate from Harvard Law. In law school, she provided legal services to unaccompanied children detained at the border, fought for asylum-seekers in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and challenged police misconduct at a civil rights firm. Before law school, she was a humanitarian aid worker with World Vision and a program coordinator for refugee resettlement at Catholic Charities.


Linda Rivas | Las Americas

Panel: Immigration Detention and “Crimmigration” Panel

Linda Y. Rivas was born in Mexico and raised in El Paso, Texas.  Linda is currently the Executive Director and Managing Attorney of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a 32-year-old organization dedicated to the legal needs of low-income migrants. Las Americas’ mission is dedicated to asylum seekers, family reunification and advocating for the dignity and rights of all migrants. Linda is also a co-founder of the Borderland Immigration Council (BIC), which was formed to help address the dire situation of due process abuses, family separation and abuse of discretion that immigrants and refugees face during the course of their legal immigration cases.This year, Linda and her Las Americas team are leading the way to fight against the harmful “Remain in Mexico” policy, as they cross the border to help ensure due process for migrants forced to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.


Ray Jayadev | Silicon Valley De-Bug

Panel: Punishment Without Guilt

Raj Jayadev is a community organizer creating a model of grassroots collective action that gives individuals facing incarceration, their families, and their communities an active role in their defense. Jayadev’s work in criminal justice reform has grown out of his social activism work with Silicon Valley De-Bug (De-Bug), an organization he co-founded in 2001. De-Bug began as a magazine about issues affecting low-wage manufacturing, temporary workers, and it has since evolved into a multidimensional platform for community organizing, social justice advocacy, and multimedia storytelling by low-income, minority, incarcerated, and other disenfranchised communities.


Wendy Shang | Pretrial Justice Institute

Panel: Punishment Without Guilt

Wendy Shang | As the research and communications associate at Pretrial Justice Institute, Wendy Shang uses her legal and writing background to research and create reports, blogs, and other communications materials for a broad range of audiences. While working as an attorney for the American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center, Wendy identified ways to improve access to counsel and the quality of representation of juveniles. She helped produce several reports, including “A Call for Justice: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings”; “More Than Meets the Eye: Rethinking Assessment, Competency and Sentencing for a Harsher Era of Juvenile Justice”; and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention bulletin “Innovative Approaches to Juvenile Indigent Defense.” Wendy is also an award-winning author of children’s books. She received a bachelor of arts in psychology and a juris doctor degree from the University of Virginia.