Donations via check should be made payable to California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice with a memo specifying that it is for the Valerie Zukin Memorial Fund. Checks can be mailed to 1999 Harrison St. Suite 1800
Oakland, CA 94612
Remembering Valerie Anne Zukin
Beloved colleague, mentor, and friend to many, Valerie Anne Zukin passed away peacefully at home on September 25, 2021 at the age of 41. She was surrounded by her family and her two giant dogs, Baxter and Sadie.
Valerie dedicated her life to pursuing justice for the most marginalized immigrants, especially those who were detained. She dedicated the latter part of her career to collaborative-building, mentorship, and training new immigration advocates. Valerie waged a fierce battle with metastatic breast cancer for 7.5 years, and despite illness and constant treatments, she both lived life to its fullest and remained a tenacious advocate, sharing her vast knowledge with others as she built and strengthened the immigration bar and fought for countless immigrants herself and through programs she built.
Valerie’s impact on her community and the detained representation space in California and beyond was immense. Shortly after she passed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adjourned its October 19, 2021 meeting out of respect to her memory.
Most recently, Valerie was a Special Projects Attorney at Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) from June 2020, where she led implementation and training for the first cohort of the California Immigrant Justice Fellowship. The fellowship is the first state-funded immigration law training program of its kind. Valerie inspired, grounded, and mentored the inaugural fellowship class, a cohort of ten diverse new immigration attorneys placed at nonprofit organizations in underserved regions of the state. Her impact will echo throughout the fellows’ careers.
Valerie was also a pro bono attorney for her last client -- “Don Juve” -- through Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD). She continued to fight for his return to the United States even in her last days. Don Juve learned how to use Zoom for the first time in order to speak at her memorial service. He remembered Valerie as “the first person to see something in me and my case, and someone who always treated me like family.”
Prior to ILRC, Valerie worked at the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco beginning in 2017, as the founding Lead Attorney for the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (NCCIJ), and then as the first Legal Director of the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ). In these positions, Valerie convened, coordinated, and fostered significant growth of the pro bono detained representation community in Northern and Central California. “Valerie mentored a generation of detention lawyers and built a detention legal service infrastructure that has and will free thousands,” one colleague wrote in a tribute. Valerie also served as a founding board member of CCIJ as it grew into an independent non-profit organization.
From 2011 to 2017, Valerie practiced as an Associate at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale (now Van Der Hout LLP), where she developed the vast knowledge of immigration law and litigation skills she later passed on to younger lawyers. She represented a wide range of clients in complex matters, both in and out of detention, from USCIS to Immigration Court to the Ninth Circuit. Valerie offered her endless energy equally to circuit court oral arguments and the mundane details of improving office templates. One of the many clients Valerie fought tirelessly for while at Van Der Hout was Iyabo, who also spoke at her memorial service. Iyabo shared: “Valerie, thank you for the love you’ve shown to me. You rescued me and gave me new wings. I am forever grateful.”
Valerie started her law career at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) from 2007 to 2011, focused on defending immigrants who were locked up at the Northwest Detention Center – then the fourth largest detention center in the country. From the very beginning of her career Valerie demonstrated the grit and determination for which she will always be remembered. She exhausted all defenses, and created new ones when nothing else was available. She formed lasting bonds with her small group of colleagues in NWIRP’s Tacoma office, through both their tireless work defending clients and time spent enjoying life and the Pacific Northwest to the fullest.
Valerie earned her J.D. from Tulane University School of Law, and her B.A. from Haverford College. During high school, she spent her summers in Morelia, Mexico, where she made lifelong friendships and developed the Spanish fluency that helped her connect so deeply with future clients. She grew up alongside her beloved sister, Heather Zukin, and was fortunate to be raised with the support of Myrna Gregory, a Jamaican immigrant woman who Valerie loved and admired deeply.
Outside of work, Valerie was an incredible and devoted friend, partner, daughter, sister, and dog mom. Valerie was known to host extraordinary dinner parties and brunches alongside her husband, Josh Rosenthal. She was a talented cook and baker, but her warmth, care, and humor made her a most unforgettable hostess. She was also a thoughtful gift-giver, passionate traveler, avid camper, hiker, and city explorer, and always knew where to find (and insisted upon visiting) the best restaurants. She is survived by her husband and sister mentioned above; her father, Stephen Zukin; her mother, Suzanne Zukin; her grandmother, Marilyn Hindin; and a widespread community of extended family and friends.
Prior to her passing, close friends and colleagues shared with Valerie that a fund would be established in her honor to advance the development of more fierce immigration lawyers like her. The Valerie Zukin Memorial Fellowship will support law students who would not otherwise be able to accept non-profit summer internships in the immigrants rights field. Valerie’s family asks that donations in her honor be directed to bit.ly/ValerieZukinMemorialFellowship.