Commissioners

A group photo of some of the Immigrant and Refugee Commission members in Council Chambers.

Reflecting the diversity of Seattle's immigrant and refugee communities, the commission has 15 members (eight appointed by the Mayor and seven appointed by City Council). Commission members will be appointed to one- or two-year terms, with the option of reappointment.

Medhanit Abebe

Medhanit Abebe

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Medhanit Abebe is an attorney from Ethiopia and currently a doctoral student at University of Washington School of Law. She has been named the 2018 Mack-Mayerfeld Fellow by the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington. Medhanit has over 10 years of experience in various sectors and brings in a unique social justice lens that intersects women, language access, and human rights issues. She is also a social justice activist and blogger.

Her most notable achievement was instituting Ethiopian National Women's Land Rights Task Force, a task force composed of legislators, judges, politicians, activists, business owners, and attorneys to lobby for gender equity and women's equal rights when legislation is enacted and amended. Medhanit has two children, Amerti, aged 8 years and Nibana, aged 8 months. She holds a Master of Law in Sustainable International Development Law, a Master of Arts in Gender and Women's Studies, and a Bachelor of Law (LLB).

Ilays Aden

Ilays Aden

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Ilays Aden is a Somali-American activist who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1995. She has lived in Seattle since 2004. She graduated from University of Washington with a Bachelor's in Arts, majoring in Economics and African Studies. After graduating, she worked directly with immigrant and refugees from East Africa in South King County in educational support and with the citizenship process. Her passions to help her community led her to law school at American University, where she focused on immigration and human rights law. Ilays has more than ten years of experience in the fields of youth development, civic engagement, and fund development.

She now lives in the Central District of Seattle, and co-founded the Eat With Muslims Project, bringing people of all faiths and backgrounds together to learn more about Islam and fight back against Islamophobia. Her work to counter the dehumanization of Muslims and xenophobia led her to receive Congressman Adam Smith's 2018 Champion of Justice Award. She also advises numerous organizations and businesses in creating anti-racist policies that will help close the achievement gap for families of color. She speaks to diverse audiences on the importance of interfaith collaborations and works to elevate the stories of Muslim-Americans and immigrant families. In her fundraising and philanthropy work, she focuses on community building around innovative housing solutions faced by displaced and underrepresented groups at one of the region's leaders in land conservation. She is passionate about bringing people to the table, whether it is to share a meal or to engage in important dialogue that supports a healthy and thriving community.

Maya Babla Appaih

Maya Babla Appaih

Appointed by: City Council

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Maya Babla Appiah currently works as a program manager within Microsoft's Global Talent Acquisition team, strategizing creative ways to bring amazing, often undiscovered, talent to Microsoft from all over the world. She previously worked at LinkedIn in San Francisco, where she consulted with Fortune 500 companies on their hiring strategies in her core role, and supported LinkedIn's refugee program, Welcome Talent, as a volunteer. While in the Bay Area Maya joined the Leadership Council of Upwardly Global, a nonprofit supporting refugees and immigrants in landing professional jobs aligned to their skills. When she moved to Seattle in January, Maya began growing Upwardly Global's presence in the Pacific Northwest.

Previously, Maya worked at a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that partnered with women leaders in the developing world. This work inspired an ongoing commitment to find creative ways to have a positive social impact, and in particular, to use technology and cross-sector partnerships in order to do so at a global scale.

Karen Gamez

Karen Arlette Gamez Lopez

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Karen Arlette Gamez Lopez is a 2018 graduate of the University of Washington with a B.A. in American Ethnic Studies. She was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, and was brought to the US at the age of three. She graduated from Kent Meridian High School and received her Associates in Arts with honors at Green River College. Growing up, she faced many challenges while trying to go to college as a first-generation college student, low-income, and an undocumented woman. Throughout her time at UW, she was dedicated to her student job at Leadership Without Borders and being an officer for Purple Group, a student organization of undocumented students. She helped fundraise over $3000 for scholarships for Undocu students and helped organize the first annual Purple Group Undocu Graduation Celebration. She also served as a co-lead for the 6th Annual Beyond HB 1079 Conference and was a co-founder of Undocu Week at UW. This year, Karen worked as the Coordinator of Leadership Without Borders, where she worked to ensure undocumented student success at the University of Washington and beyond. Overall, Karen hopes to dedicate her life to empowering her community. She is undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay.

Naheed (Gina) Aaftaab

Naheed (Gina) Aaftaab

Appointed by: City Council

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Naheed is the Assistant Director of the University of Washington's Center of Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE). Prior to her work at the University of Washington, she completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and B.A. and M.A. at University of Washington. Her family emigrated from Afghanistan to the US in 1989.

Throughout her education she has been interested in politics, geography, and community activism in order to understand the complexities of immigration both locally and internationally. While her course work provided knowledge about history, policies, and institutions, her family and social life gave her a deep understanding of acculturation, belonging, and supporting communities in transition. Her goals are to advocate for and support communities that are at the margins through education, research, and outreach.

Denisse Guerrero-Harvey

Denisse Guerrero-Harvey

Appointed by: City Council

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The proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. Denisse Guerrero's family immigrated to the United States 40 years ago. Her siblings and her were all born in California and had no idea of their parents' immigration status. It wasn't until she was much older that she learned they were undocumented. In the late 1980's under the Regan Administration, her parents were granted amnesty, and in 2007 they became U.S. citizens.

 Her professional career in the field of education has involved working closely with immigrant/undocumented communities. As a previous educator, specifically as a bilingual/ELL high school history teacher, she taught immigrant/undocumented students (many who were recent arrivals) and tried her best to support them holistically. This meant connecting students with the appropriate academic and social services so they could adjust in their new country and succeed academically. In her current role as an undergraduate academic advisor at the University of Washington-Seattle, she works with many immigrant/undocumented students to ensure that they navigate and graduate college. This also involves taking a holistic approach, so each student can reach their academic and professional goals. In order to better serve them, she participated in the Undocu Ally Training in fall 2017 and the Undocumented Summit-Dreaming Without Borders.

Eric Holzapfel

Eric Holzapfel

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Eric holds two roles at Entre Hermanos, a nonprofit that provides social, educational, and health support services to LGBTQ Latino/as. He is the Program Manager for the Immigration Program, and he serves as a direct support to the Executive Director, Luis Fernando. He originates from Ecuador and has worked in politics, health, interpretation, and immigrant rights in both Ecuador and in the U.S. He has been the Co-Chair for the Evans People of Color at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance as well as the Presidents of the Latin American Student Organization at the University of Kentucky.

Farhiya Mohamed

Farhiya Mohamed

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Farhiya has over 10 years of experience working with Seattle's immigrant and refugee communities. She has experience working for community organizations such as Refugee Women's Alliance (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 the University of Washington.

Riddhi Mukhopadhyay

Riddhi Mukhopadhyay

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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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 Sexual Violence Legal Services, 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.

Johnson Nguyen

Johnson Bach Nguyen

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Originally born in Saigon, Vietnam, Johnson moved to Seattle in 1997 with his mother. Growing up in Seattle, he found himself naturally drawn towards teaching and organizing within communities of color. As an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, Johnson served as the president of the Vietnamese Student Association, the director of the Asian Student Commission, and as an at-large member for the Student Advisory Board.

After obtaining his bachelor's degree, he worked as a bilingual preschool teacher for Hoa Mai Vietnamese Bilingual Preschool, organized with Friends of Little Saigon, and consulted for OneAmerica. Currently he is studying for his Master's in Public Administration at the Evans School, interning at King County, and serving a board term with the Vietnamese Friendship Association. Johnson hopes to study the intersection between effective early education policy and funding in public schools. He truly believes that early education is the best investment one can make in their children, as well as their communities.

Karina San Juan-Guyton

Karina San Juan-Guyton

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Karina San Juan Guyton currently works as a Senior Communications Manager within Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Marketing team. Born and raised in Mexico City, Karina has over 15 years of experience in multinational companies and nonprofits across the US and Latin America across a wide range of industries, from financial and retail companies to non-profit organizations focused on arts education and healthcare.

Karina is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Italian. In her personal time, Karina serves as Communications Advisor for Children's Home Society of Washington and One Equal Heart Foundation, and as Spanish interpreter for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Amanda Sandoval

Amanda Sandoval

Get Engaged Commissioner
Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Amanda Sandoval is a Public Policy Coordinator for the Mockingbird Society, where she helps establish partnerships with local coalitions, advocacy groups, and government stakeholders. Her experience will add to the commission and her expertise on public policy and community organizing will help fill a significant gap on the commission and will enrich the work being done by the other commissioners.

Amanda Sandoval is an ally and advocate for immigrant and refugee rights. Her background in community organizing with community, non-profits, government agencies, and various stakeholders. Her own immigrant background gives her firsthand experiences of the hardships many immigrants and refugees face. In her current research role, she has been interviewing refugees throughout King County, asking them about their experience resettling, and giving them an opportunity to be heard. Making sure that they know people are listening to them, their voices are heard, and that they are a vital group in our communities.

Ankita Patel

Ankita Patel

Appointed by: City Council

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As an immigrant from Zambia, Ankita has dedicated her career to advancing the social and economic status of people so that they can create change for themselves and their communities. Ankita has over a decade of experience working on social justice issues, including housing/homelessness, gender-based violence, migrant farmworker justice, and immigrant rights. Ankita brings strong leadership, team-building, and relationship skills that have allowed her to successfully build collaborative cross-sector partnerships and engage closely with communities to improve systems and create safe, thriving environments. Ankita currently works as the Public Policy and Advocacy Manager at Philanthropy NW, where she manages the Census 2020 pool-funded partnerships, develops cross-sector strategies, and develops advocacy and policy programming for the philanthropic sector.

Shelani Vanniasinkam

Shelani Vanniasinkam

Appointed by: City Council

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Shelani was born and raised in Sri Lanka moving with her family to Arizona in 2000. A first generation college student, she received a Bachelor's in Political Science from Northern Arizona University and a Masters in Global Studies from Brandeis University. Her Master's Degree focused on Gender Violence in Kashmir. Shelani has worked in various non-profit and corporate roles in her career and has been a passionate advocate of equity and inclusion serving on the Staff Committee at Sound Generations (formally Senior Services) and Boeing. She also spent three years as an ESL Teaching Assistant with Asian Counseling and Referral Services working with adult immigrant and refugees.

Currently, Shelani works at Amazon's legal organization where she serves as a member of the Pro Bono Committee. She also represents the Immigrant and Refugee Commission on the Parks District Oversight Committee (PDOC) and the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Taskforce.

Maria Zepeda Flores

Maria Zepeda Flores

Appointed by: City Council

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Maria grew up in Bakersfield, CA, the heart of the agricultural Central Valley. After obtaining a BA in Psychology from Yale, Maria spent time working with immigrant and refugee families as an AmeriCorp after-school program leader and as a case manager for a behavioral health nonprofit. These experiences motivated her to pursue an MPA to address the root causes of the inequities that she experienced growing up and that affect the families she worked with.

Currently, Maria is pursuing her Masters of Public Administration at the University of Washington Evans School, serving as a Board Fellow for City Year Seattle/King County, interning at King County and serving as a partner on the Education Collective Action Team at Social Venture Partners.