Two years after opening, local immigration law practice continues to grow – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Along Third Avenue in downtown Worthington stands a small, brick building where attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski first made a home for her private practice, Kivu Immigration Law — Worthington’s first immigration law office. Now, just

two years

after opening its doors, Schutte Wadzinski is preparing for her business to move down the block and around the corner to a 10th Street site with plenty of room for continued growth.

Schutte Wadzinski was raised in Worthington. She went through the school system, eager to get out of town and with no plans to return. After graduation, she headed east to Connecticut in 2008, where she attended first Yale University in New Haven before moving on to the University of Connecticut School of Law. She attended classes at night for four years to earn the degree that would pave the way to becoming a lawyer, all while working full time as the Director of Yale Young Global Scholars, an academic enrichment program for high school students from across the U.S. and around the world.

“With a team that started small and grew quickly,” Schutte Wadzinski said, “I launched and expanded YYGS to make summer educational opportunities more accessible to students regardless of their financial status.”

While the program is mostly virtual these days, various-academic themed sessions are still hosted on Yale’s campus in Singapore, China. During her time at Yale and through the Yale Young African Scholars Program, Schutte Wadzinski directed programming in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

It was at Yale that Schutte Wadzinski met her future husband, Tyler Wadzinski, a Green Bay, Wisconsin, native. After a decade out East, the two decided to move back to Schutte Wadzinski’s hometown. Tyler became a chemistry instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and Schutte Wadzinski began working as a staff attorney at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Worthington office.


Erin Schutte Wadzinski, Anneliese, and Tyler Wadzinski in the new Kivu Law office space.

“I chose to come home after law school specifically to practice immigration law,” Schutte Wadzinski explained. “My educational and professional experiences helped me hone in on what I was really looking for in a career.”

For Schutte Wadzinski, she wanted a career with an international focus and would allow her to continue to grow as a leader while having a positive social impact. Being an immigration lawyer in Worthington was the perfect storm.

After two years as a staff attorney in Worthington, Schutte Wadzinski opened the doors to her own law firm after receiving the Initiators Fellowship through the Southwest Initiative Foundation. A two-year Fellowship, the program was aimed at revitalizing rural Minnesota by helping individuals start or grow a social enterprise. For Schutte Wadzinski, it was just what she needed in order to take the plunge as a small business owner.

“I created Kivu Immigration Law as a social enterprise to address a critical gap in legal services in the southwest Minnesota region,” she stated. “I find it a fascinating and ever-changing area of law to practice. I love representing individuals — getting to know people and their families. I am fortunate to have such wonderful clients and am grateful for their trust and confidence in me. It is a true joy to have the opportunity to play a small part in seeing someone’s life improve as more doors of opportunity open as they navigate their immigration journey.”

Her work through Kivu Immigration Law allowed Schutte Wadzinski the opportunity to pursue her interests in law and global affairs, while providing a service that has, in her own words, a “significant impact on our daily lives.” The law firm handles a wide range of cases, from helping with family petitions for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have non-citizen family members, to asylum cases representing individuals who fled their home countries due to persecution or fear of it. For Schutte Wadzinki, one of the best parts of her work is seeing the smiles of clients when they reunite with a family member, obtain authorization to legally work in the United States, or become an American citizen.

“Kivu Immigration Law is a unique law firm because it has two equally important prongs to our mission,” Schutte Wadzinski said. “The first is to provide high-quality legal representation to immigrants and their families. The second is to bring awareness about how national immigration laws and policies impact our local rural communities.”

As part of those efforts to increase awareness on national immigration laws, Schutte Wadzinski has given presentations to local groups interested in learning more, including faculty at Worthington public schools and Minnesota West, and local church congregations. The firm’s social media works to provide up-to-date, credible immigration news that is relevant to the area, and Schutte Wadzinski shares, they’re even starting a book club.

However, that’s not the only way Kivu Immigration Law is expanding. In January, Schutte Wadzinski was

granted a conditional use permit

by the city during a meeting where numerous community members came out to voice their support. Once settled into the larger space, Schutte Wadzinksi hopes to host gatherings and invite community members to join in on conversation about immigration issues, starting this summer.

“We are very excited to move into our new office location on 10th Street,” Schutte Wadzinski said. “I am grateful for partnerships with the city of Worthington, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Southwest Regional Development Commission, and First State Bank Southwest to make the purchase of the building possible.”

With the additional space that will allow Kivu to continue to grow its business as well as full-time staff — Schutte Wadzinski hopes to have another full-time attorney join. The firm’s staff is also looking forward to welcoming a team of student interns to Worthington this summer. This will be the internship program’s second year, where a mix of law students and undergraduate students will work with Kivu staff on initial consultations, work with clients on their cases, and get involved in community activities.

“I’m very excited to see Kivu grow,” said Leah Ward, a legal assistant at Kivu Immigration Law. “I think it’s a reflection of the reputation that Erin has built in our community.”

Ward joined Kivu’s staff in 2021 and said that for her, being part of such meaningful work has been a great learning experience — in no small part because of Schutte Wadzinski.

“I really look up to Erin,” Ward said. “She has a brilliant mind, but she also has a big heart and that is sort of a perfect intersection of the work that we do here.”

It is work that is appreciated by the community Schutte Wadzinski serves, considering her expanding business and vocal supporters. For Schutte Wadzinski though, it’s an impact that goes both ways.

“Growing up in the Worthington area instilled a curiosity for the world around me,” she said. “As a child, my parents encouraged me to learn about cultures and languages different from my own. I had many opportunities to travel the world through my studies and work at Yale, and now that I practice immigration law in Worthington, I feel as if the world comes to me.”

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