Two years after opening, local immigration law practice continues to grow – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Along Third Avenue in downtown Worthington stands a small brick building where attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski first set up her private practice, Kivu Immigration Law — the premier immigration law firm. Worthington Immigration. Now, just two years after opening its doors, Schutte Wadzinski is preparing for its business to move down the block and around the corner to a 10th Street site with plenty of room for continued growth. .

Schutte Wadzinski grew up in Worthington. She went through the school system, eager to leave town and with no intention of returning. After graduating, she headed east to Connecticut in 2008, where she first attended Yale University in New Haven before moving on to law school at the University of Connecticut. She took night school for four years to earn the degree that would pave the way to becoming a lawyer, while working full-time as director of Yale Young Global Scholars, an academic enrichment program for high school students across the United States. United States and around. the world.

“With a team that started small and grew rapidly,” said Schutte Wadzinski, “I launched and expanded YYGS to make summer education opportunities more accessible to students, regardless of financial status. .”

Although the program is mostly virtual these days, various academic topic sessions are still held at the Yale campus in Singapore, China. While at Yale and as part of the Yale Young African Scholars program, Schutte Wadzinski led programs in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, and Zimbabwe.

It was at Yale that Schutte Wadzinski met her future husband, Tyler Wadzinski, a native of Green Bay, Wisconsin. After a decade in the East, the two decided to return to Schutte Wadzinski’s hometown. Tyler became a professor of chemistry at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and Schutte Wadzinski began working as an attorney in the Worthington office of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.

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Erin Schutte Wadzinski, Anneliese and Tyler Wadzinski in Kivu Law’s new office.

“I chose to come home from law school specifically to practice immigration law,” Schutte Wadzinski explained. “My educational and professional experiences helped me focus on what I was really looking for in a career.”

For Schutte Wadzinski, she wanted a career with an international focus and would allow her to continue to grow as a leader while having a positive social impact. Being an immigration lawyer in Worthington was the perfect storm.

After two years as a lawyer in Worthington, Schutte Wadzinski opened her own law firm after receiving the Initiators Fellowship through the Southwest Initiative Foundation. A two-year fellowship, the program aimed to revitalize rural Minnesota by helping individuals start or grow a social enterprise. For Schutte Wadzinski, it was exactly what she needed to take the leap as a small business owner.

“I created Kivu Immigration Law as a social enterprise to fill a critical gap in legal services in the southwestern Minnesota region,” she said. “I find this to be a fascinating and constantly evolving area of ​​law. I love representing individuals – getting to know people and their families. I am fortunate to have such wonderful clients and I am grateful for their trust and confidence in me. It’s a real joy to have the opportunity to play a small part in seeing someone’s life improve as more and more possibilities open up as they navigate their immigration route.

His work through Kivu Immigration Law has allowed Schutte Wadzinski to pursue his interests in law and global affairs, while providing a service that has, in his own words, a “significant impact on our daily lives”. The law firm handles a wide range of cases, from assisting with family petitions for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have non-citizen family members, to asylum cases representing people who have fled their country of origin because of persecution or fear of it. For Schutte Wadzinki, one of the best parts of his job is seeing the smiles on clients’ faces when they reunite with a family member, gain permission to work legally in the United States, or become American citizens.

“Kivu Immigration Law is a unique law firm because it has two equally important components to our mission,” said Schutte Wadzinski. “The first is to provide high quality legal representation to immigrants and their families. The second is to raise awareness of the impact of national immigration laws and policies on our local rural communities.

As part of these efforts to raise awareness of national immigration laws, Schutte Wadzinski has made presentations to local groups interested in learning more, including teachers from Worthington and Minnesota West Public Schools, as well as local church congregations. The company’s social media strives to provide up-to-date, credible immigration information that is relevant to the region, and Schutte Wadzinski shares, they’re even starting a book club.

However, this is not the only way Kivu’s immigration law is developing. In January, Schutte Wadzinski was granted a conditional use permit by the city at a meeting where many community members came out to show their support. Once set up in the larger space, Schutte Wadzinksi hopes to hold rallies and invite community members to join the conversation on immigration issues, starting this summer.

“We are very excited to move into our new offices on 10th Street,” said Schutte Wadzinski. “I am grateful for the partnerships with the City of Worthington, the Southwest Initiative Foundation, the Southwest Regional Development Commission and First State Bank Southwest to make the purchase of the building possible.”

With the additional space that will allow Kivu to continue to develop its activities as well as its full-time staff, Schutte Wadzinski hopes to have another full-time lawyer. The firm’s staff is also looking forward to welcoming a team of student interns to Worthington this summer. This will be the second year of the internship program, where a mix of law and undergraduate students will work with Kivu staff on initial consultations, work with clients on their cases and engage in activities. community.

“I’m very excited to see Kivu grow,” said Leah Ward, legal assistant at Kivu Immigration Law. “I think it’s a reflection of the reputation that Erin has built in our community.”

Ward joined the Kivu staff in 2021 and said for her to be part of such meaningful work has been a great learning experience – thanks in large part to Schutte Wadzinski.

“I really admire Erin,” Ward said. “She has a brilliant mind, but she also has a big heart and it’s kind of a perfect intersection of the work we do here.”

It is work appreciated by the community that Schutte Wadzinski serves, given its expanding business and vocal supporters. For Schutte Wadzinski though, it’s a two-way impact.

“Growing up in the Worthington area instilled a curiosity about the world around me,” she said. “As a child, my parents encouraged me to learn about cultures and languages ​​different from my own. I had many opportunities to travel the world through my studies and my work at Yale, and now that I practice the law of immigration in Worthington, I feel like the world is coming to me.

Jon J. Epps