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Anisa Hajimumin Q&A: DEED’s new assistant commissioner talks about jobs for immigrants and refugees — and our common aspirations

Earlier this week, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development announced the hiring of Anisa Hajimumin as the agency’s new assistant commissioner for immigrant and refugee affairs.

Anisa Hajimumin
Anisa Hajimumin
Gov. Tim Walz, in a press release, said Hajimumin’s background “will help the state find new ways to collaborate with immigrants and refugees, who play a vital role in our economy and our culture from Warroad to Winona and everywhere in between.”

Deputy Commissioner Hamse Warfa told MinnPost that immigrants and refugees often have trouble finding jobs – even though many Minnesota businesses need workers. Moreover, those with an entrepreneurial spirit also find it difficult to locate helpful resources, he said. Hajimumin will be tasked with addressing both of those concerns. 

“We are very excited that she is the right leader for this position,” Warfa said.

Hajimumin moved to Minnesota in 1996 and graduated from Metropolitan State University and Hamline University. She is the founder of two businesses that provide technical and strategic support for entrepreneurs from immigrant and refugee communities. In 2014, she returned to her native Somalia to serve as the Minister of Women, Development and Family Affairs in the Puntland region.

Hajimumin spoke to MinnPost a few days after starting her new job. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity:

MinnPost: Why did you take this job?

Anisa Hajimumin: It was appealing because, as a Minnesotan who has spent most of her life here in the states, I have always been an advocate for immigrant and refugee advancement. This was an opportunity to be part of the state system and to offer my expertise and experiences and to shed light on some of those barriers (that newcomers face). And I liked the challenge. I see myself as a public servant and it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of the state level.

MP: The news release announcing your hiring says you will examine “systems and policies that may be slowing down or preventing immigrants and refugees from finding work or starting their own businesses.” What are some of those things?

AH: Learning to navigate the state system, for instance, and the educational system. You know, sometimes (academic) credentials are not recognized here and (people with those credentials) end up driving Ubers or taxis. Workforce development and training, also – having more access to that is so important. Minnesota is one of the best places to raise families, and it has been a place of embracing immigrants and refugees despite difficulties of race and other issues. But not every immigrant who comes here knows the culture or how to integrate or knows the language. It is quite a challenge in itself.

MP: You returned to Somalia for a few years to work in the government there. How might that experience factor into your new position?

AH: That experience would definitely help me in regard to having that executive and government leadership and looking at policy and being able to explain that to immigrant communities. I feel like I can not only speak for [immigrant and refugee] advancement on the state level, but also ask whether our state is trying to become a better place for everyone. We are all trying to make a home and we are not so different from one another. I have driven to rural Minnesota and seen rural residents suffering. They might look like different people, but that doesn’t mean that we are different. No, we are not that different. How can we work together for the greater good?

MP: Minnesota, along with the rest of the country, is in the midst of a great discussion about inequality and racism. Is there anything you can do in your new position to address those concerns?

AH: Definitely. The good thing is that (DEED) has a diversity inclusion committee and it’s a privilege for me to be a part of that. How do we approach issues of race? Many people are not that familiar with it or were raised to not talk about race. I feel it is all of our responsibility to come forward and say, ‘Hey, we need to do this, there’s no better time to do this.’ We can learn from each other without judging each other. 

MP: What have you been doing as you get on your feet?

AH: Besides setting up the network system, I have already been talking to people about what we will be doing and the kind of engagement we will be doing and what kind of 100-day plan that we can put in place. You know, I was thinking last week that I would come in and work and then – to kind of lessen the burden and the frustration of the new job – I was going to attend a Mötley Crüe concert. But it got canceled! (Laughter). Either way, I’m really fired up.

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