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).

Maya Babla Appaih

Maya Babla Appaih

Co-Chair
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.

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.

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

Get Engaged Commissioner
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.

Ankita Patel

Ankita Patel

Co-Chair
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 emigrated from Sri Lanka with her family at the age of 14 and settled in Chandler, Arizona. Shelani, went on to receive a B.S. in Political Science from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and a Masters in Global Studies from Brandeis University. Her Master's Degree focused on Gender Violence in Kashmir. Shelani has worked in various social services roles throughout the years. At Sound Generations (formerly Senior Services), she served as the staff representative for the Refugee Forum of King County and was a member of the Staff Committee for Equity and Inclusion.

During her tenure at Boeing, Shelani was the Diversity Focal and Secretary of the Diversity and Inclusion Council. Currently, she enjoys volunteering at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) as an ESL Teaching Assistant and doing pro-bono work with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) as part of her position with Amazon's Legal Organization.

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.