Hill Climbers: Staffer Seeks Voice for the Voiceless

Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:13pm

Nadir Vissanjy understands the power of public policy.

The recently promoted legislative correspondent for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) grew up as an illegal immigrant in California and said the only reason he’s in the position he’s in today is because a “sound public policy” opened the doors for him to afford a college education.

“As an undocumented immigrant, I was able to go to college because of the California DREAM Act,” said Vissanjy, who was born and raised in Portugal and came to the United States with his mother, sister and aunt when he was 9. “I became a citizen last May … became a permanent resident in college and was student body president. I really did become who I am … because of a sound public policy in California that said regardless of your immigration status, you can become who you want to be.”

After processing that, Vissanjy said, he knew he had to come to Washington, D.C., to help make sure other immigrants who grew up in the same situation could obtain the same opportunities. So Vissanjy “took the plunge” and moved to D.C. in December 2010 with the hope he would find a job on Capitol Hill.

He quickly landed a spot as an intern for the House Democratic Caucus, where he worked for a little more than a year before he was hired as staff assistant in Honda’s office. In January, Vissanjy was promoted to the legislative correspondent spot. 

Vissanjy said he’s honored to work for Honda, with whom he claims a kinship: Honda, a Japanese-American, spent time in an internment camp during World
War II; Vissanjy grew up as a Muslim-American in a post-9/11 world.

“Congressman Honda is constantly fighting for those without voices, and I know that sounds cliché, but as an immigrant, to have someone like the Congressman at the front lines is really valuable,” Vissanjy said. “Whether it be immigrants or working class or labor, he’s always there, fighting for the things I grew up either in or working for. So for me, working for someone like the Congressman is really valuable, and I couldn’t work for a better office.”

Vissanjy was recently accepted to Harvard University, where he will start in the fall on his master’s of public policy. He said it will be hard to leave Washington and Honda’s office, but he said he will take what he learned on Capitol Hill with him in the future to help work on issues facing the immigrant and working class communities. 

“It really does break my heart [to leave] because this is an amazing office, and the past year and a half I’ve had just a really wonderful experience,” Vissanjy said. “I think what I want to do is take my experience that I’ve gained here from the past two years and take the experience from the next two years [at Harvard] and move back to California and really try to build on a lot of the work that the Congressman did here, out there [in California]: build coalitions with unrepresented people, build coalitions with people with diverse views and really bring different people together to champion progressive legislation, which helps the working class, helps the immigrant population, helps the voiceless. That’s ultimately my goal.”

Send news of hires and promotions on Capitol Hill to climbers@rollcall.com.