Inna Simakovsky An Attorney for the People
2020 edition, by Emma Walker-Suarez
Inna Simakovsky was born in the former Soviet Union and emigrated to the United States as a religious refugee when she was a child. As with many refugee families, education was stressed in her household, as was navigating an unfamiliar system through sheer determination. Inna’s dedication, devotion and advocacy for the refugee and immigrant community started through her own experiences and led her to the practice of immigration law and the desire to help others navigate its barriers and complexities.
“My parents are my role models,” Inna says. “They wanted a better life for themselves and for me, and they risked everything to immigrate to the U.S., not knowing if they would succeed. That ability to have no fear and just do it is an extraordinary strength. My parents have instilled my strong work ethic, as well as family and community values.” While attending the University of Cincinnati, Inna took an internship at an international law firm in Washington D.C., giving her the opportunity to return to Russia for the first time as part of the client interpretation and development team. Her cultural and legal experiences there solidified Inna’s desire to attend law school. Inna attended The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and spent both law school summers studying and working in Russia.
Her desire to give back and assist others drove her to work in the nonprofit sector, and her first legal job was with Columbia Legal Services in Spokane, Wash. She soon had the chance to work with an almost exclusively Russian-speaking staff and clients at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the same organization that had resettled Inna and her family in 1976, and moved to San Francisco to practice immigration law.
After moving to Madison, Wis. so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., Inna became COO of a psychiatric independent medical review company. Shortly after the birth of their first son, the family relocated to Columbus to be closer to family. Inna was hired to run the immigration department at Community Refugee and Immigration Services, which thrived under her direction from 2004-2007. Now with three children, Inna founded Simakovsky Law to provide immigration services with a hybrid private and nonprofit model.
but the firm provides immigration services throughout the U.S., as well as to clients all over the world who are trying to come to the U.S. to work and to reunite with family. Simakovsky Law assists people in navigating sectord of the immigration system, including the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Court of Appeals and U.S. consulates overseas. “I am a woman, a refugee, a cultural Jew, a daughter, a sister, a mom, a friend and a lawyer. The issue becomes what am I on a certain day and how do I put priorities into place every day to ensure that I can be that person to myself and to others that need me,” Inna says.
In 2017, the U.S. government’s switch to an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee agenda drastically changed the practice of immigration law. diminishing the rule of law and presenting major challenges. The only positive that has come out of all the new barriers, Inna says, are the connections to like-minded people and organizations, and renewed commitment to fight for the rights of refugee and immigrants.
Running her own firm enables Inna to quickly pivot and make decisions to assist immigrants without the confines of a traditional nonprofit. Her staff decided early on to practice immigration law in a more holistic way by providing immigration services as well as other services needed by new arrivals. “It is important to share immigrant women’s stories. … Nothing comes easy. But if you work with determination and passion, things do work out,” Inna says.
Simakovsky Law housed and helped found Columbus ITA, an organization that provides supplies and assistance to asylum seekers as they travel by bus from detention centers on the West Coast to their sponsors on the East Coast. The organization’s mission is to establish an interconnected network of dedicated volunteers to help as many migrant families passing through Columbus as possible.
The COVID-19 crisis has been another major obstacle in Simakovsky Law’s decades of advocacy, Inna says, but it’s only reconfirmed the firm’s practices. Its holistic approach offers deep expertise and experience to help clients navigate the immigration process while also focusing on the services they need to support themselves and their families. “Through this current pandemic, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and loyalty … to keep everyone employed when so many were losing their jobs. We did it with sheer hard work and determination, but the pandemic will have lasting effects on our society and how we do business, so we have to keep reinventing ourselves,” Inna says.
When bus stations were closed due to COVID-19, Simakovsky Law pivoted again and, with its staff and partners, set up a food pantry inside its office, in addition to organizing several food and supply drives that mainly target the undocumented community. “We are learning through COVID-19 to use our firm resources and to network with other organizations that assist the immigrant community,” Inna says. Simakovksy Law has also been reaching out to new partners, looking to form a network of connections and partners to assist with needed services. The firm is seeking:
· Referrals: Simakovsky Law handles all aspects of the immigration process and welcomes the opportunity to assist individuals in need.
· Collaboration: The firm seeks to partner with organizations offering, planning or considering programming for immigrant communities
· Expertise: The firm is on the ground in immigrant communities, giving it a unique perspective into the pressing issues and challenges facing immigrants today, and making it a potential resource for organizations developing programming in those areas.
Restoration, to Inna, means restoring our laws and the application of those laws to the refugee and immigrant community. Despite all the executive orders and policies attacking Muslims, refugees and immigrants, America was built by and for immigrants, and part of Simakovsky Law’s mission is to help people become U.S. citizens, make sure they are able to vote and restore respect for immigrants.
Inna Simakovsky on Leadership & Immigration
Q: In your opinion, how important is it for women to network with other women?
A: It is vital. I only had men mentors when I was starting out, and they taught me strength and resilience. I learned and applied those lessons in opening and running my practice, and I was labeled “aggressive” and a “bitch.” When men exhibit these leadership qualities, they are labeled as strong leaders. I have found my strength in surrounding myself with other strong women, and I am no longer concerned about how others perceive me, as I know myself and what I am doing.
Q: What leadership qualities do you believe are important for women to have?
A: Women need to be aggressive and assertive. We work twice as hard to get to the same place.
Q: What is something you wish someone had told you prior to entering the legal profession?
A: I was told about how challenging it could be, as well as how rewarding. I did not believe it. You do not believe until you experience it. The highs and lows of this profession cannot be explained. I would recommend that new women entering this profession have a mentor and trust their mentor. I think younger generations want things easier and faster, and sometimes, that is not possible. Knowledge comes with patience and experience, and that takes time.
Q: Do you have any exceptional cases or projects coming up?
A: This administration has made being an immigration lawyer very challenging. One of our projects is to help people become U.S. citizens so that they can vote for a government that supports refugee and immigrant rights. Before COVID-19 hit and all oath ceremonies were canceled, we assisted more than 500 people in becoming U.S. citizens. We have also helped 10-plus people get asylum. We have reunited families from all over the world. We also started a food drive with community partners, and are partnering with the Latino community, businesses, restaurants, teachers, lawyers and more. We are buying food from the immigrant community. We also opened another office in Dayton in June.
Q: What advice would you give to women who are going through immigration and legal challenges?
A: Hire a lawyer that you trust, then trust them! Ask questions. Understand how you got where you are.