Meet Christina Fialho

Christina is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Freedom for Immigrants


Christina is the co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, formerly Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), which she co-founded with Christina Mansfield in 2012 to abolish immigration detention.  

She is an attorney and immigration detention expert, and she has been awarded the 2016 Ashoka Fellowship and the 2012 Echoing Green Fellowship in recognition of her innovation and entrepreneurship. She also is a recipient of the 2018 James Irvine Leadership Award and the 2013 Rockwood Fellowship for a New California.


Christina has spent nearly 15 years advocating for immigrants.

Prior to starting Freedom for Immigrants, Christina assisted in defending immigrants from detention and deportation, with a focus on representing LGBTQ asylum seekers. She has argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Immigration Courts. She also worked as a program coordinator for Upwardly Global in San Francisco and a research fellow for the Global Detention Project in Geneva, Switzerland. In college, she worked as an ESL teacher in England, and she volunteered at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program and at LifeMoves Julian Street Inn. While in law school, she co-founded the first visitation program in the state with Christina Mansfield at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond.

Christina comes from three generations of immigrants from the Azores and Madeira Islands, autonomous regions of Portugal.  Her paternal great-grandfather came to the United States through the Azorean Refugee Act, and her grandparents and father followed.  Her maternal grandparents also were immigrants, and inspired her to challenge systems of oppression that kept people from living fully free lives.

Christina is based in Los Angeles, and she serves on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. Previously, she served as the first Social Entrepreneur in Residence at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, on the Steering Committee of the Detention Watch Network for six years, and she was appointed to the California Bar Association’s Civil Justice Strategies Task Force.

Christina speaks internationally on immigration detention issues, and she was named among the Top 16 Immigration Keynote Speakers by All American Speakers. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, BBC News, Associated Press, Teen Vogue, la Repubblica, and on Univision and Telemundo, among others.

She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and she has written for MSNBC, Los Angeles Times, InStyle Magazine, Forbes, USA Today, Washington Times, The Hill, among others. Her scholarly writings, published by Oxford University Press, the Forced Migration Review, and Springer Publishing, have focused on the intersection of international and immigration law. Christina also is on the Editorial Advisory Board of Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Christina has worked to introduce and pass several state and federal laws such as the Dignity Not Detention Act in California (passed 2017) and the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act in Congress, introduced in both houses in 2018 and 2019.

She also has produced award-winning documentary and non-narrated shorts, which have appeared on NPR, in the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico, and screened at the United Nations in New York City. Most recently, she co-edited a book with poet Alicia Partnoy, Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which is being sold at independent bookstores such as City Lights in San Francisco.

Christina is a member of the California State Bar. She graduated with a J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law (May 2012) after serving as Articles Editor of the Santa Clara Law Review. She received her B.A. in English and Philosophy summa cum laude with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Santa Clara University. She also studied at Oxford University on a yearlong academic scholarship and was awarded the Hackworth Fellowship by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.


Select Media Appearances:

Christina is available for media interviews and select speaking engagements. To inquire about her availability, please email


The Immigration Hotline in OITNB Is Real — and So Is the Trouble Surrounding It, InStyle, July 2019

Kamala Harris's DONE Act is the right alternative to ICE detention, The Hill, July 2019

In Immigration Lockups, Hate Speech Means More Than Just Words [Op-Ed], Colorlines, July 2019

State Attorney General’s report draws attention to abuses at Theo Lacy, OC Register, March 2019

Small but powerful amendment could lessen immigration detention, The Hill, January 2019

Op-Ed: A bird trapped in ICE detention: What it’s like inside the largest immigrant prison in the US, Salon, July 2018

Don't stop with family separation. End the whole immigration prison system, LA Times, June 2018.

Here’s One Solution to Keep Families Together — And We Know It Works, InStyle Magazine, June 2018.

California stopped expansion of abusive ICE detention. Congress can, too, Sacramento Bee, May 2018.

Immigration detention in the United States denies basic human freedoms, LA Times, March 2018.

Trump doesn’t want Californians to know what’s happening inside immigrant jails, Orange County Register, Marcy 2018.

Check out Christina’s blog on the Huffington Post, featuring regularly contributed articles on immigration detention.

“Let Us In: An Argument for the Right to Visitation in U.S. Immigration Detention” in Immigration Detention, Risk and Human Rights, pgs. 251 – 278 (Springer 2016).

Santa Ana’s jail should be closed and repurposed, Orange County Register, February 2018.

If you want to end sexual violence, start with prisons, The Hill, December 2017.

Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown will be deadly, USA Today, May 2017.

Santa Ana’s motto: Jails not schools, Orange County Register, April 2017.

Sheriff Hodgson is the next Joe Arpaio, South Coast Today, January 2017.

Costly, Inefficient And Unaccountable: The Case For Outlawing For-Profit Prisons, Forbes, September 2016.

California has the opportunity to lead the nation with dignity, not detention, Orange County Register, September 2016.

Immigrant detainees deserve to be treated with dignity, Los Angeles Times/Daily Pilot, August 2016.

Profits over care make case for immigration reform, The Hill, June 2016.

Poets and Artists Expose the Failure of Immigration Detention, The Hill, April 2016.

End law enforcement violence against trans women, The Hill, February 2016.

Fialho: Stop State-Sanctioned Sexual Assaults in Santa Ana, Voice of Orange County, February 2016.

Trapped in detention, transgender immigrants face new traumas, MSNBC, August 2015.

Stop Detaining Immigrants at Adelanto, The Hill, July 2015.

End Immigration Detention of LGBTQ, The Hill, June 2015.

Does Jesus Call for the Abolition of Immigration Detention? G92, January 2015.

Obama’s Immigration-Lockup Quota, Washington Times, January 2014.

A Model Immigration Detention Facility for LGBTI?, Refugee Studies Centre, Forced Migration Review No. 42 – Sexual orientation and gender identity and the protection of forced migrants, April 2013.

Ending Isolation Through A Ministry of Presence, G92, Feb. 2, 2013.

The Invisible Problem of Immigration Detention, JURIST-Hotline, Jan. 4, 2013.

Rethinking Pre-removal Immigration Detention in the United States: Lessons from Europe and Proposals for Reform, Refugee Survey Quarterly 2012 31:69-100.

The Attorney-Client Privilege in Immigration Law: In Defense of the Privilege for Clients and their Accredited Representatives (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Working Paper, April 2011).

A Response to Immigration Detention, JURIST Dateline, December 16, 2010.

Immigration Detention and the Law: U.S. Policy and Legal Framework (Global Detention Project, Working Paper No. 3, August 2010).