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Paula Fitzgerald, Esq. is the executive director of Ayuda. As executive director, she leads Ayuda’s efforts to increase the availability of direct legal, social, and language services for more than 3,000 low-income immigrants annually. Under Paula’s leadership, Ayuda’s programs have expanded throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to reach more of our immigrant neighbors. Paula began her work with Ayuda as an immigration staff attorney, and quickly advanced as managing attorney at Ayuda’s Virginia office. Prior to joining Ayuda in 2008, Paula served as an immigration staff attorney at Hogar Hispano of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, and as an associate at Hunton & Williams LLP.  

Paula’s personal and professional goals are driven by her inherent desire to make a lasting impact in the lives of others. Her immigration legal work focused on humanitarian relief for individuals, children, and families, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, U visas, T visas, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status petitions. She also has extensive experience in family-based immigration matters, consular processing, waivers, and NACARA cases. Paula deeply credits her parents with instilling the values that led to her work. Her mother, a Colombian immigrant, was a social worker at a school with a large Latin American immigrant population. Her father worked as a psychologist for the mentally ill at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Paula participates on and has engaged with many councils and committees across the Washington metropolitan area. Additionally, she has been recognized with many awards and accolades, including:

  • 2023 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, Georgetown University
  • David Bradt Nonprofit Leadership Award, Greater Washington Community Foundation (2020)
  • The El Tiempo Latino Powermeter 100: The Nation’s Capitol 100 Most Influential People for the Hispanic Community (2019)
  • Women’s Bar Association Star of the Bar (2018)
  • Washingtonian magazine, 40 Under 40 list of leaders in the Washington, D.C. region (2017)

In 2016, Paula completed Georgetown University’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. She continues to provide Ayuda with strategic direction and ensures that her team offers the highest quality of services. Paula earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in psychology from James Madison University. Paula and her family have lived in northern Virginia for more than 40 years.