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.

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

Bao-Tram Do

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Bao-Tram is a refugee from Vietnam and naturalized American citizen who grew up in South Seattle. Bao-Tram's work in community engagement started as a community organizer registering low-income patients in community health clinics to vote. Currently, she works as a Program Officer at Seattle Foundation where she oversees the Vibrant Democracy Initiative grant making programs, including support for leadership development, coalition building, and voter education and registration.

Bao-Tram is the former board chair of APACEvotes and former member on the Summer Search Seattle board of directors. Bao-Tram is a Gates Millennium Scholar and received her BA in Sociology from Whitman College and MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she became the first graduate of the Public Health Advocacy certificate program in the school's history. In addition to her professional and community work, Bao-Tram is the small business owner of Emerald City Flowers where she brings cheer and beauty to people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naheed (Gina) Aaftaab

Co-Chair: Naheed (Gina) Aaftaab

Appointed by: City Council

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Naheed is the Language Services and Community Engagement Program Supervisor at King County Elections, and before that she was the Assistant Director of the University of Washington's Center of Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE). 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.

Naheed (Gina) Aaftaab

Emmanuel GV Dolo

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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As a victim of civil wars and a refugee for nearly 10 years, exposed to traumatic experiences and untold human sufferings, Emmanuel GV Dolo is committed to helping and serving the immigrant and refugee communities in Seattle.

Dolo founded the Population Caring Organization (PCO) in 2004.  The humanitarian organization started in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana and was extended to Liberia in 2006. For more than 9 years, Dolo served as the Executive Director, helping to provide good sanitation to camp residents, free primary education to more than 800 vulnerable refugee children, vocational skills training to more than 245 refugee women (especially mothers), and initiated the Buduburam Conflict Resolution Project which resulted to the formation of the Refugee Elders Peace and Reconciliation Council. Dolo also supported refugee returnees with peace, reconciliation, and post- civil war community development support.

Emmanuel Dolo moved to Seattle in 2012. Realizing the great potentials of African community leaders in and around Seattle, he worked with a few professors and other individuals to mobilize African entrepreneurs who lead nonprofits and other enterprises in their respective African communities. In 2016, he and the team conducted a series of workshops and community meetings, drawing participants from eight African-led organizations and communities. At the end of the initiative, the participants formed themselves into a group called the African Community Alliance. The purpose of the alliance is to promote networking and mutual support among participating organizations and communities.

Dolo holds a master's degree in International Community Development from Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. He received his BA in Liberal Studies from Antioch University in Seattle and a transferred Associate in Business Administration from Seattle Central Community College (now Seattle Central College).

He is also a Laureate Global Fellow at the International Youth Foundation (based in Baltimore, Maryland), and a 2009 International Fellow of iLEAP, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that recognizes and brings outstanding leaders of civil society organizations to Seattle for a three-month leadership training.

Currently, Dolo is the founder and Operating Manager at Washington Transfinancial Services, an LLC based in Seattle. In this role, he provides professional support to African-owned small enterprises, especially in the areas of targeted business development strategies, operational support, and transportation. He has been in this role since the establishment of the LLC in September of 2019.

Elrohi Shuge

Elrohi Mesfin Shuge

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan (Get Engaged Program)

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My name is Elrohi Mesfin Shuge, I am studying Law, Socities, Justice and Sociology. I have the vision of developing just and equitable policies to advance oppressed communities. My career aspirations are due to my upbringing and is embedded in making differences in the lives of others. As an African immigrant from Ethiopia, and through my lived experiences I have the understanding of the opportunities available to many-yet not all. Here in the U.S. the unjust incarceration faced by different groups of people I know has created my internal drive and commitment to challenge institutional racism and create positive systemic change by expanding social justice and serving my community. My goal is to address which systems continue to create systemic barriers in order to advance marginalized communities, I hope to be able to improve the services and policies to better support communities in need. I hold close to my heart my passions and the personal growth that comes from resiliency.

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.

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

Karina San Juan

Appointed by: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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Born and raised in Mexico City, Karina San Juan moved to the US in 2009 and has over 15 years of experience in multinational companies and nonprofits in 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 currently works as Communications and PR Director at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

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 as Spanish interpreter for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Amanda Sandoval

Amanda Sandoval

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

Co-Chair: 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.