A new paralegal joined the Religious Immigration Services, or RIS, team on Feb. 20, and she brings with her a breadth of experience and a global perspective. Etsegenet Kedir Mohammed has studied and worked in Africa, Europe and North America. At CLINIC, she looks forward to continuing the type of work that upholds the rights and dignity of immigrants while supporting religious workers as they fulfill their faith’s mission.
Etsegenet learned about CLINIC’s work through her networks and decided to apply to work at the intersection of immigration justice and faith. Originally from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Etsegenet worked as a licensed legal practitioner for one year before moving to Sweden to pursue a master’s degree in International Human Rights Law from Lund University. Her professional and academic trajectory in Ethiopia and Sweden resulted in academic accolades and proficiency in Swedish, in addition to Amharic and English.
“Coming to another country and proving yourself in a new environment is very challenging. For the first time, I felt that my experience became ‘the experience of all my people,’ which most times meant Africans,” Etsegenet explained. “This is why I wanted to work in a diversified organization that valued different perspectives and included professionals from around the world.”
In the United States, Etsegenet has worked as a legal assistant at a law firm that managed asylum cases in Alexandria, Virginia. She also interned with Africa Faith and Justice Network in Washington, D.C., “a community of advocates for responsible U.S. relations with Africa,” and volunteered with the Workers’ Rights Clinic of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. In addition, she worked as a program coordinator in a nonprofit in Rockville, Maryland. At the intersection of these experiences is her commitment to serve vulnerable immigrants, from a diversity of countries.
“You may say I am advocating for them, but for me, I am advocating for us. I recognize my privileges and what my background has equipped me to ask… but other people are having their rights violated, and they don’t know how to advocate for themselves. We are experiencing very difficult times, and I am inspired to do this work for us, not just for them. Leaving your country and your people is one of the hardest decision you would make in your life time.”
Etsegenet is proud of helping religious workers in their immigration journey. Like many of her clients, she believes in embracing her new community in the United States while honoring the culture and linguistic backgrounds of her homeland. “Knowing that I can be an Ethiopian who can pursue a meaningful life in America, at the same time, makes me proud. This country is open to diversification and that makes me excited about being here, just like many people who come here,” she said.
When Etsegenet is not working at CLINIC, she enjoys reading books that make her laugh and think critically — with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime currently on her reading nook — and blogging in Amharic under a pen name. She also loves attending and singing at her church and sharing with members of her congregation. The place in the world she would most want to visit? “Always Ethiopia.”
When prompted to share the most meaningful piece of advice she has received in her life, Etsegenet said: “Follow your heart and be patient, because everything comes with time. The reality you are facing is hard, but you don’t have to change your dreams or your hopes. Just trust yourself, because if you don’t trust yourself and take pride in who you are, it would be more difficult. Trust the process.”
Etsegenet has joined a team that helps sisters, priests and other non-religious workers to file their immigration cases so they can come to the United States and continue their mission. Her belief that supporting immigrants is supporting us all is akin to RIS’s commitment to “serve those who serve.”