Worthington office of Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota adds two new staff
“There is help for people who have any type of situation," said Arantza Fonseca, who recently joined the ILCM. “Being able to help people is important to us. We want to be able to do that.”
WORTHINGTON — The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Worthington office has seen two recent additions in the past year who are working with the non-profit organization to provide legal assistance to immigrants and refugees.
Femi Mojekwu, originally from Houston, Texas has worked in Worthington’s ILCM office for almost six months, while Arantza Fonseca, of St. James, joined the office earlier this month. While Mojekwu is based in the Worthington office, Fonseca serves the state's southwest region, traveling to work with clients and stopping at the Worthington office every few weeks.
Fonseca studied psychology and criminal justice at St. Mary’s University and, after graduating in the spring of 2021, worked with the Committee Against Domestic Abuse before starting with the ILCM.
Mojekwu attended college in Florida, where he developed an interest in law. After graduating, he accepted a fellowship in Worthington and has been here since.
Both Fonseca and Mojekwu credit their interest in immigration law in part to their family members who have come to the United States. Mojekwu’s father immigrated from Nigeria; Fonseca’s mother is from El Salvador and her father is from Mexico.
“Immigration has always been part of my culture and my life,” said Fonseca. “It's hard work, but it's very rewarding when you can help someone. Understanding that we're all human and we all have needs … and being able to help people with something that is as simple as answering the questions they have sometimes brings a lot of relief. More relief than anyone can imagine if you're not in that situation.”
“Knowing what people are going through can only serve to help,” said Mojekwu on how his experiences have helped shape the work he does. “There’s this sort of heightened level of compassion.”
As legal assistants, Fonseca and Mojekwu help with a number of different case types, ranging from working with immigrants who are victims of violent crimes to helping kids who come into the country begin the pathway to U.S. citizenship.
A big part of their work, though, is also in connecting clients with resources. In Worthington and throughout the southwest region, ILCM works with a variety of groups, including the Southwest Crisis Center, and is always looking to make new connections within the communities they serve.
“A lot of the process is talking (with clients) about their experience and their trauma,” said Fonseca, noting that her fluency in Spanish, background in psychology, and previous work as an advocate are assets in connecting with people. “To be informed and know how to help people is definitely something that takes practice … a lot of the community have questions and so taking the time to answer those and reassure them that just because they’re a victim of a crime doesn't mean they can’t get help. ”
Additionally, through a grant from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the ILCM helps prepare lawful permanent residents for naturalization.
“What I like about this is we cater towards clients who can’t afford normal services,” said Mojekwu. “ Being able to help people who otherwise might not get that help that they need, doing that work is something I really enjoy.”
While Mojekwu plans to ultimately pursue his law degree while working with the ILCM, Fonseca looks forward to being accredited by the Department of Justice to represent clients in court without a law degree. The process includes classes and training and requires documentation of work with a recognized organization, like the ILCM.
Helping bridge some of the information gaps they see in the community and connect people with the necessary resources is an area where both Fonseca and Mojekwu are hoping to see growth during their work with ILCM.
“I think Worthington is one of those regions or areas that ... is special and has a lot of new immigrants. It's a community that's growing and kind of integrated into the American culture,” said Fonseca.
“But there is this information lag,” Mojekwu added. “A lot of people in these groups would be in a better position if they had better access to information. That’s something I would like to see change and we’re really going to work at.”
In line with that effort, they offer talks and lectures, and Mojekwu said he makes it a point to go into civics classes and answer questions from students. He encourages people to stop by the office, located at 1206 Oxford St., which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There is no charge for a consultation.
“We work on a lot of different immigration case types,” Mojekwu said. “If we can’t help, we can recommend you to another organization that can.”
“There is help for people who have any type of situation,” added Fonseca. “Being able to help people is important to us. We want to be able to do that.”