As AASF grew over the last two years, the organization’s founders recognized that working towards their organizational mission is a long-term task in need of long-term leadership. In 2022, AASF moved to professionalize the organization by recruiting their first executive director, Gisela Perez Kusakawa, a results-driven civil rights leader, policy expert, and attorney with a proven record in advocacy under multiple presidential administrations. She is a bridge builder that has experience in building new infrastructure and programming to address urgent needs, as well as nurturing partnerships and fostering solidarity between diverse groups and political ideologies. 

Prior to accepting her leadership role with AASF, Kusakawa served as the Founding Director & Supervising Attorney of the Anti-Profiling, Civil Rights, & National Security program (formerly the Anti-Racial Profiling Project) at Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), one of the largest and leading national Asian American civil rights organization in the country. In this role, she led their advocacy efforts on anti-profiling, civil rights, and national security; established the foundation of the new department; fostered new partnerships; and laid the groundwork for a legal referral service. Gisela was the primary and lead drafter and legal strategist for amicus briefs for Professors Xiaoxing Xi and Feng Tao. She has been a trailblazer and expert on policy and advocacy on anti-profiling, national security, and civil rights, having spearheaded coalition work to end the U.S. Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” and appeared on multiple media publications such as NBC News, Science, LA Times, NPR and MIT Technology Review.

In her previous work with asylum seekers and detained immigrants, Kusakawa successfully won a grant of asylum for a mother and daughter from Honduras. She served indigent immigrants under AmeriCorps in Ohio, and worked as a teacher in Ise City, Japan where she was also a disaster relief volunteer for the Tohoku tsunami. In her younger years, Gisela worked on business and job development in the rural villages of the Philippines, and was a former Rotary Scholar at Kofu City, Japan.

Her community involvement includes serving on the Board of Directors for the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Education Fund, the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, the National Filipino American Lawyers Association, and as a Founder & President-Elect of the Filipino American Lawyers Association of D.C. For her work in civil rights and public service, Kusakawa had the honor of receiving the Justice Thurgood Marshall Civil Liberties Award and was awarded the competitive National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation Community Law Fellowship, which seeks to develop public interest law leaders to advance Asian American civil rights.

Kusakawa is a first-generation immigrant who hails from the Philippines and spent her childhood in Tondo, Manila before moving to the United States. Overcoming tremendous odds for a better life in America, Kusakawa became an attorney to dedicate her life to public service and help the many immigrants and families seeking safety and compassion in the United States. Kusakawa is admitted to practice law at the District of Columbia and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and received her J.D. from The George Washington University Law School.

AASF is honored and grateful to have welcomed Gisela Perez Kusakawa to lead the organization. In her short tenure thus far, she has proven herself to be a fearless leader and powerful advocate. AASF looks forward to many years ahead of growth, empowerment, advocacy wins and more under her leadership.