WORTHINGTON — Erin Schutte Wadzinski celebrated the opening of her private practice, Worthington’s first immigration law office, on Monday.
Kivu Immigration Law PLLC is located in the former Flynn and Riordan Law Office at 906 Third Ave. in downtown Worthington. Schutte Wadzinski has two subtenants, including new-to-Worthington Spanish-speaking criminal defense attorney Guillermo McKibbin and APX Construction. Jesse Flynn has relocated his law office to another site within the same block.
The opening of Kivu Immigration Law was several months in the making and delayed somewhat by COVID-19, according to Schutte Wadzinski, who wrapped up more than a year of work with the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota in early January.
“I was able to get a pretty significant number of clients by word of mouth right before COVID-19 hit,” she said.
While the governor’s stay-at-home executive orders slowed the process of moving into her newly rented office space, Schutte Wadzinski used the time wisely.
“We filed several applications during that time we were working from home,” she said. “It also allowed me to really study up and branch out on additional types of immigration cases that I wasn’t anticipating taking early on at Kivu Law.”
During stay-at-home orders, Schutte Wadzinski studied asylum law — something she realized there was a significant need for in Worthington — and is now prepared to offer assistance to asylum seekers. The service is one of many Schutte Wadzinski will offer at Kivu Law. As an immigration attorney, she works primarily with individuals born outside the United States who now live in the area.
“We assist individuals who are lawful permanent residents who are ready to apply for citizenship, and we help lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens who have family outside the country,” she said. “We work with refugees who are ready to apply for lawful permanent residence and we also work with new arrivals, some who are unaccompanied minors, who apply for asylum or special immigrant juvenile status. We also work with victims of domestic violence and labor trafficking.
“There are also young people who have DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrival) status, and we help them renew their status so they can continue to receive protection from deportation and work authorization,” she added.
In addition, Schutte Wadzinski is working to create a local network of translators and interpreters who can assist Kivu Law in serving non-English speaking clients, particularly from Southeast Asia and East Africa.
“We have received a local donation to start Kivu Law’s Language Services program to help train and pay local interpreters to assist Kivu Law’s clients,” she shared.
Schutte Wadzinski has hired two legal assistants, both of whom speak fluent Spanish. Gabriela Bruning was hired in early May and works full-time for Kivu Law, while Julie López began part-time with the office in early February.
“At our current capacity, we are able to schedule consultations — one in the morning and one in the afternoon with individuals we have not worked with before,” Schutte Wadzinski said. Through those initial conversations, she will determine if clients are eligible for immigration benefits and discuss available options and cost for services.
“For me, (it’s) important that people know their options and understand how immigration policy affects them, so that way they can make a decision that’s best for them and their family,” she said.
Schutte Wadzinski’s office also assists clients seeking U.S. citizenship to prepare for the interview.
“Kivu Law aims to offer high quality legal services,” she said. “Immigration law is very complex. Kivu Law is here to help people navigate that process.”
While her office is now open, Schutte Wadzinski said everyone who visits is asked to wear a mask as the world remains impacted by the global pandemic. Plexiglass has been installed at the receptionist counter, as well as in the conference room, and sanitizing will be done extensively after each client visit.
“We are adapting to new norms and best practices,” she said. “It’s a very strange time to be opening a business, but we are excited to finally be able to see our clients face to face because we have been working with our clients virtually the past few months.”
Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Schutte Wadzinski said she's looking forward to doing education and outreach and engaging with the community through speaking and classroom visits.
“I look forward to reengaging with community organizations and discussing questions they have regarding immigration law,” she said.
Last November, Schutte Wadzinski was awarded an Initiators Fellowship from the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation to start her business. She was among seven individuals selected for a two-year fellowship, which includes training by the foundation and an annual $30,000 stipend.
Kivu Immigration Law is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. To arrange an appointment or for more information, call 295-4858, visit kivulaw.com or see its Facebook page.