About Us

Dowload a pdf of the Immigrant and Refugee Commission 2014-2016 Workplan.

Meet the Commissioners

Jeniffer Calleja

Originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, has worked in social research and community development for over 10 years.  Since moving to Seattle, she has worked on issues of health equity, employment and labor and civic and family engagement, with low income community members, a majority of whom are immigrant and refugees and from diverse age groups.  She is passionate about empowering underrepresented individuals and communities to make their voices heard and participate in local decision-making processes from reporting a broken street light to pursuing complex policy changes. Currently, she works at Neighborhood House on a project to address health disparities in public housing communities. 


Dori Cahn

Dori is a teacher, writer, and advocate working with immigrants and refugees. A native-born New Yorker, she grew up in an extended family of Eastern European immigrants. Her Master's degree focused on environment and development in Latin America, which she later taught at the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College. Dori's interest in community-based education led to teaching ESL and ABE at community colleges and community-based organizations in the Seattle area. While working with Cambodian refugee communities in the U.S. to challenge the deportation of former child refugees back to Cambodia, she helped start an organization in Phnom Penh to support the returnees there. She has lived and worked in Cambodia, and continues to travel there as an advisor and mentor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Currently the owner of her own communications business, Dori has written extensively about immigrant and refugee issues, has developed exhibits with the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, and is currently working on a history of Pacific Northwest immigration for the former federal Immigration Building in Seattle.


Isatou Jallow

Isatou was born and raised in Gambia, West Africa.  She moved to Seattle in 2012 as an asylee.  She is currently an LLM Candidate at the University of Washington School of Law in the Sustainable International Development Graduate Program.  She has a degree in Law and Political science from Universite Mohamed V in Morocco, where she lived for five years prior to moving to the U.S. Isatou is also an advocate for women's rights and speaks openly about her beliefs.  She was able to save her sister and cousin from female genital mutilation (FGM). Today FGM is no longer practiced in her family. Her dream for the complete eradication of this practice is not limited to her family alone. She hopes to work with immigrants living in the U.S. to convince them not to send their daughters back home for FGM. Her goal is the complete eradication of FGM. 

Isatou has delivered talks and presentations about FGM and refugees' access to health care at the invitation of the University of Washington School of Law, the University of Washington School of Global Health, the Seattle University School of Law, Somali Maternity Services, HealthRight International, and the Northwest Immigrants' Rights Project.  Isatou regularly connects with local organizations with similar views regarding women's and immigrants' rights and health. She currently works at Convergent Outsourcing and tutors French part time.  She has also volunteered at Harborview Medical Center, United Way of King County, and the University of Washington Refugee Pipeline Project.


Simon Khin

Simon is one of the leaders of the fastest growing refugee populations in the US - that of Burma. Along with his family, he immigrated to the Seattle area in 1977 from Burma. He completed a BA in Architecture from University of Washington, BS in Electrical Engineering from Seattle Pacific University and Masters Certificate in Technology Management from City University.  He is the Founder and President of Northwest Communities of Burma.

Since the late 90's, Simon volunteered at refugee camps at Thai-Burma border and advocated for refugees even while working as a software engineer in the corporate world.   He continues to serve his community by advocating for understanding between ethnic groups from Burma as well as with larger Seattle community.  In July 2012, Simon was recognized for his work with refugee populations with the Spirit of Liberty award at the Fourth of July naturalization ceremony at the Seattle Center. In September 2012, he was honored to be personally invited by Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her Congressional Gold medal award ceremony at the Washington, DC Congressional Rotunda.


Kiwai Lai

Bio coming soon.


Farhiya Mohamed

Farhiya has over 10 years of experience working with Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities. She has experience working for community organizations such as ReWA and Southwest Youth and Family Services. She has worked as a community organizer and educator to help women victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in immigrant and refugee communities. She has also worked to provide environmental health education to the Somali community. She is fluent in Somali and is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work at University of Washington.


Marilena Morales

As a daughter of two migrant farm working parents from the Yakima Valley, Marilena was raised with values of family and social equity and to never look down on someone unless she was helping them up. With these values always in heart and mind, Marilena has pursued a career in community healthcare. To Marilena, the right to equitable and affordable healthcare is a basic human right. Currently at Neighborcare Health, a federally-qualified health center serving King County, a portion of Marilena’s work is focused on strategizing to decrease costs per patient as well as identifying areas in the community with high utilization of emergency services in order to partner with supportive housing facilities, emergency departments and specialists deter avoidable costs. Marilena’s work is to ensure that federally insured and uninsured patients, in particular, have access to the highest quality care.

Marilena is also a proponent of the right to equitable and affordable education. Marilena started a scholarship for farm working students from Grandview High School pursuing a 4 year degree in Washington State. Grandview, Washington is the same agricultural-based town where Marilena’s parents grew up working the fields. The scholarship, awarding 7 students in 2014, has been a way for Marilena to stay connected her own cultural roots and work to ensure that monetary barriers are not the sole factor deterring students from pursing higher education.


Riddhi Mukhopadhyay


Riddhi is an attorney and longtime activist for immigrant and refugee rights.  Born in Kolkata, India, she has previously lived in North Carolina, Texas and now calls Seattle, Washington, home. Riddhi received her law degree from Seattle University School of Law and her bachelors from Duke University.  Since 2001, she has volunteered as an advocate for immigrant domestic and sexual violence survivors and is a former Berkeley Law Foundation legal fellow and attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.  She has organized and advocated with different immigrant communities, including domestic workers, detained individuals and immigrants with developmental disabilities. Currently at the Sexual Violence Law Center, Riddhi specializes in representing and assisting survivors and victims of sexual violence facing challenges in accessing justice based on mental illness, developmental disabilities, limited English proficiency, and immigration status. She provides bilingual legal services in Spanish, and also speaks Bengali and Hindi.


Kianoush Naficy

Kianoush is an attorney and property manager who has given extensive legal representation to immigrants and refugees in Washington State. She received her B.A. from Whitman college and received her law degree from the University of Washington. During law school, Kianoush concentrated on immigration law and policy matters, and represented removal and asylum clients as a member of the UW Immigration Law Clinic. After receiving her J.D., Kianoush worked at various legal nonprofits in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., primarily focusing on immigrant rights issues. She returned to Seattle in 2012, after which she began practicing immigration law full-time until 2016. Kianoush has lived in Iran, Italy, China, and Guatemala; she is fluent in Farsi and proficient in Spanish.


Luis Ortega

Luis Ortega is the founder and director of Storytellers for Change where he works as an education and leadership development consultant as well as a professional storyteller. Luis has over a decade of experience in youth leadership development, undocumented student issues, advocacy, social justice and equity work, and strategic and organizational development. Luis has worked on various consulting projects to develop and provide services for immigrant and refugee populations in the Seattle area, such projects include coordinating the expansion of the Leadership Without Borders Center at the University of Washington to better serve undocumented students and providing youth leadership development programming for the Seattle World School. Luis serves in the board of Eastside Pathways and the advisory boards of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project and the Seattle MESA (Mathematics, Science & Engineering Achievement) Program. In addition, Luis is continuously traveling to visit schools, colleges, conferences, and community events across the nation to speak about the power of storytelling, empathy, and radical community building. Luis firsthand experience as an immigrant, social entrepreneur, and community advocate for immigrant rights, is at the heart of his passion and commitment to work vigorously for equity and social justice for all.


Michele Ramirez


Michele is currently a Master’s student studying Nonprofit Management and Global Affairs at the Northeastern University Seattle campus.  She grew up in Pensacola, Florida, where she lived with her close-knit family. After graduating high school in 2008, she moved to Gainesville, Florida to attend college at the University of Florida as a Bright Futures Scholar. She graduated with honors in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Environmental Studies, and Sustainability Studies. Upon graduation, she accepted an AmeriCorps position in Seattle, WA with a nonprofit organization called City Year. During her time with AmeriCorps, she completed a year of service teaching and mentoring at-risk youth in high-need schools in South Seattle.

Michele now works for the YMCA and the Seattle Mayor’s Office as an Attendance Campaign Coordinator on a project that aims to increase attendance in Seattle Public Schools. Seattle’s rich culture and diverse community has greatly influenced Michele. While continuing her education in Nonprofit Management, she is working on her thesis, which explores the effects of childhood immigration on identity. She hopes to one day run a nonprofit organization that provides services to immigrant families in the Seattle area.


Laurel Saito

Laurel Saito is a youth development professional with a passion for working with immigrant and refugee students. Through her organization, the Vietnamese Friendship Association, she’s had the privilege of being based at the Seattle World School, a Seattle Public School for immigrant and refugee students. In her current role, Laurel manages SWS’ after school, Saturday school, and summer school programs. Much of her work involves building partnerships with local community-based organizations and nonprofits, helping those groups better understand and adapt programming to the unique needs of immigrant and refugee youth, and address barriers to participation so SWS students can access and attend these academic and extracurricular activities.

Previously Laurel served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, where she taught at a public high school and worked at a home for abused, abandoned, and neglected boys. Laurel professional experience also includes time in Cambodia with the Public Affairs Section of the the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, a hybrid court which is prosecuting senior members of the Khmer Rouge. Laurel is a fourth generation Japanese American and her family’s personal encounters with discrimination motivate her to ensure other groups don’t face the same challenges in Seattle.


Tsegaba Woldehaimanot

Tsegaba holds a Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has over seven years experience in the field of mental health, including working as a mental health therapist providing therapeutic services to children and adults. Tsegaba was born in Sudan where her family took refuge after fleeing their homeland of Eritrea because of war and violence. She and her family later migrated to America as refugees to make better lives for themselves. Witnessing first-hand the challenges faced by many refugees, Tsegaba has long been interested in issues of emotional distress in refugee populations, and how communities can best meet those needs. She is well-acquainted with both the local refugee community and community mental health system. Tsegaba currently works at Asian Counseling and Referral Service as the Outreach Coordinator for the Pathways to Wellness Project. She reaches out to various refugee communities to learn the emotional and mental needs of their members working to connect them to appropriate resources. She also connects with local mental health agencies interested in increasing their capacity to serve this community.