Minnesota appoints first dedicated immigrant commissioner

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Minnesota now has a senior-level leadership position explicitly dedicated to immigrants for the first time in the history of the state.

Anisa Hajimumin is the new assistant commissioner for immigrant and refugee affairs within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

She will be the state's first primary specialist for immigrants' issues, working directly with the governor.

DEED told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it is a position only a handful of states currently have.

"This is a unique moment, a watershed moment for our state to really tackle some of the systemic barriers, systemic racism that is impacting a lot of communities," said DEED Deputy Commissioner of Workforce Development Hamse Warfa.

According to DEED, there are nearly half-a-million immigrants in Minnesota, making up nearly 10% of the state's population. Most are from Asia and many are from Africa. In the last decade, immigrants and refugees accounted for nearly 60% of the growth in Minnesota's workforce.

"Immigrants are playing a critical role in our economy," Warfa said. "We also know many of them are facing formidable challenges."

Warfa said common obstacles for immigrants and refugees in Minnesota include language barriers and transportation issues. Recently, some of their small businesses were also shut down because of COVID-19 or destroyed in the recent riots.

"Having a dedicated person who's going to help remove some of those barriers and make the necessary connections is really critical," Warfa said.

The state started looking for someone to fill this role in February and chose Hajimumin out of a pool of about 50 applicants.

Hajimumin immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a teenager.

DEED had this to say about her credentials: "After founding and leading two businesses focused on providing technical and strategic support to entrepreneurs from communities of color, immigrants and refugees, Hajimumin returned to Somalia from 2014-2017, where she served as the Minister of Women, Development and Family Affairs in the Puntland region. During her ministerial service, she established a social protection framework for women and children, directed a program to prevent human trafficking, raised and distributed funds for displaced families, increased women's political participation, oversaw the building of a center to serve people with disabilities, and drafted and facilitated passage of a bill (the first-ever in Somalia) to prosecute sexual offenders. Under her leadership, Somalia was the first African country to sign on to the campaign to end female genital mutilation. She has extensive experience collaborating with local, state, national and international agencies and government entities to move policies forward."

Hajimumin believes helping immigrants and refugees find work in Minnesota will also help the state's overall economy.

"Many times, immigrants and refugees are facing disparities, not necessarily because of a lack of skills or education or even experience, but more lack of racial justice," Hajimumin said. "At the end of the day, the hope that I have is that, in America and especially Minnesota, it has been a place where immigrants and refugees were welcome and it's a place that anyone can make home."