Governor Maura Healey, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh announced three key leadership appointments for the Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI). Cristina Aguilera Sandoval, who is currently Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, will become Executive Director of ORI effective June 16, becoming the chief advocate for immigrants and refugees in Massachusetts. Ronnie Millar, former Executive Director of the Rian Immigrant Center, joined ORI on May 22 as Director of Strategic Initiatives. Susan Church, an immigration attorney who has spent more than 25 years advocating for immigrant rights, joined ORI as Chief Operating Officer today, May 23.
“Massachusetts’ immigrant and refugee communities make our state stronger. Cristina, Ronnie, and Susan are uniquely qualified to lead an office that celebrates the contributions of immigrants and refugees and connects them with the resources and services they need to thrive here,” said Governor Healey. “Their leadership is particularly important in this moment as we prepare for the implementation of the Work and Family Mobility Act and continue the challenging work of connecting families with safe and secure housing amidst our housing crisis.”
“ORI plays an increasingly important role in serving the refugee and immigrant communities in Massachusetts, as well as those who are arriving here to build their futures,” said Lieutenant Governor Driscoll. “Together with our partners across state government and community-based organizations, this team will help ensure that all immigrants and refugees in Massachusetts have access to safe shelter, food, health care, education, cultural and linguistic needs, and more.”
“As Executive Director of ORI, Cristina will serve as the chief advocate for refugees and immigrants in Massachusetts and ensure that new arrivals to our state are met not only with the right supports and services, but with dignity and compassion,” said Secretary Walsh. “Ronnie’s expertise will help us bring together key supports like legal assistance, housing, employment, and health care so that new arrivals are set up for long-term success in Massachusetts. Susan will apply her relentless work toward immigrant rights to drive policy and program initiatives to achieve ORI’s mission: full participation of refugees and immigrants as self-sufficient individuals and families in the economic, social, and civic life of Massachusetts.”
“I am honored and humbled to join Governor Healey’s administration as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants,” said Cristina Aguilera Sandoval. “At a time when so many people are displaced by conflict, persecution, failed economies, and climate change impacts, including my family, this country is seen as a beacon of hope. Massachusetts prides itself in being a welcoming state, and together, we can ensure that we live up to our values. My immigrant family and I have been able to thrive in this Commonwealth, and I have dedicated my career to advocating for all immigrants and refugees to be able to do the same. I look forward to working with my colleagues in government and with immigrant advocates to address gaps and disparities in services and resources, and create an environment that enables all immigrants and refugees to weave their unique threads into the fabric of our Commonwealth.”
“I am very honored to serve the Commonwealth and our immigrant and refugee communities,” said Ronnie Millar. “We are obligated from both a legal and humanitarian perspective to welcome newcomers and to assist them on their path to safety and well-being. It’s going to take a collective effort and good will from all of us to mitigate the difficulties we are facing at this time. I look forward to working together across the state on these challenges and opportunities.”
“I am thrilled to join the administration with Governor Healey at the helm to protect the rights of immigrants,” said Susan Church. “I worked closely with Governor Healey during the Trump administration to protect the rights of Immigrants and I am certain the Governor and her team are deeply dedicated to welcoming new arrivals in a humane and sustainable manner.”
Cristina Aguilera Sandoval has devoted her career to advancing opportunities, policies and equity for immigrants and refugees in Massachusetts and across the country. She was raised in Valencia, Venezuela, and has worked for two decades to promote social equity and immigrant rights, building coalitions and strategies to promote social justice, campaigning for more equitable policies, and developing and implementing inclusive programs. Aguilera most recently served as executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, having previously overseen the Collaborative as director of programs at the Rian Immigrant Center. She is a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Latino Empowerment and chair of the Advisory Council at the Leah Zallman Center for Immigrant Health Research. She began her career in the U.S. organizing immigrant and refugee workers with the labor movement in several states before joining the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) for 6 years, where she served as Director of Organizing. She then worked at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, promoting immigrant inclusion, equitable grantmaking, and research at the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy. Aguilera has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela and a master’s in public administration from the LKY School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Ronnie Millar is the former executive director of the Rian Immigrant Center, which serves as Boston’s welcome center for immigrant families from around the globe, providing immigration legal, education, resource and support services. Millar was the co-founder of the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, a group of 15 diverse, immigrant-serving organizations across the Commonwealth that assisted more than 130,000 immigrant families during the COVID-19 pandemic. He emigrated to the United States from Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1993, and worked as an engineer and engineering manager with Digital. He is a graduate of the UMass Boston College of Public and Community Services and began his work in human services in 2000. Millar also served as executive director of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s largest peace and reconciliation center for five years. Millar has received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for his community service, and in 2021, the Institute for Non-Profit Practice awarded him a national Changemaker Award.
Susan Church is an immigration attorney who has been an advocate for immigrant rights since 1998. In November 2005, Church established her own firm, Demissie & Church, where she specializes in federal and criminal related litigation including both criminal jury trials and complex immigration habeas cases. She successfully sued the Trump Administration in 2017, obtaining one of the first travel ban victories in the country, and again in 2018, reuniting a family separated by the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. Attorney Church is also well known for her pro bono work, having received the John Adams pro bono award from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2018, Suffolk Law School Alumni of the year award in 2018, and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Attorney of the Year award in 2018. More recently Attorney Church was nominated by the Boston Bar Association for the President’s award for her work with the immigrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022. She also served as chair of the American Immigration Lawyers of New England from 2017-2018.
Mary Truong, outgoing Executive Director of ORI, will continue working with the agency as Director of the Citizenship for New Americans Program (CNAP), which includes services to support the successful integration of immigrants in becoming naturalized US citizens.