LIRS Appoints Krish O’Mara Vignarajah as President and CEO
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LIRS Appoints Krish O’Mara Vignarajah as President and CEO: Choice Represents a New Generation of Leadership

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PRESS RELEASE: LIRS Appoints Krish O’Mara Vignarajah as President and CEO: Choice Represents a New Generation of Leadership

For Immediate Release:
February 13, 2019

Rebecca Heller; 410-230-2746

Baltimore—LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) is excited to announce the appointment of Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, former Policy Director to First Lady Michelle Obama, as President and Chief Executive Officer, effective February 13, 2019.

Since its founding in 1939, LIRS has worked to uphold the uniquely American ideal that welcoming immigrants from across the globe with open arms is essential to our nation’s progress and prosperity. Now more than ever, bold action is needed to ensure America remains the shining city on the Hill and a bastion of hope for those yearning for a better life. Krish’s embodiment of these timeless American values inspired LIRS to appoint a next generation leader—the second refugee and first non-Lutheran in its 80-year history—to lead its efforts to protect the rights and create opportunities for vulnerable refugees and migrants.

“In an era of family separation and animus towards immigrants seeking a better life, Krish Vignarajah is the perfect person to lead LIRS–one of our nation’s foremost immigration organizations. As an immigrant who fled a civil war and went on to serve in the State Department, Obama White House, and across Maryland, Krish uniquely understands the challenges and opportunities facing refugees and asylum-seekers. She will be a tireless champion for all who seek a better life,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations).

A refugee herself, Krish represents the promise of the American Dream and understands better than anyone the importance of LIRS’s work. When she was 9-months-old, she and her family escaped a civil war and built a life in Maryland. Her parents became public school teachers in Baltimore City. But Baltimore schools were more than an employer for her parents; they became an extended family as teachers and principals alike helped her family navigate a new country, just as neighbors treated Krish and her family not as strangers but as neighbors and friends. She has never forgotten that without their support, she could not have gone from Baltimore public schools to the White House. Krish has committed her career to public service because she knows how differently life could have turned out.

“Krish is exactly the kind of once-in-a-generation leader LIRS needs right now,” said LIRS Board Chair Bishop Michael Rinehart. “In the wake of unprecedented challenges to U.S. refugee resettlement and immigration policy, the LIRS mission—to protect, embrace, and empower those we serve—is more crucial now than ever. Through our extensive nationwide search, we aimed to identify a leader who not only has a deep passion and commitment to this work, but also has the business acumen to drive the organization in a positive direction. The selection of Krish is an embodiment of the Lutheran commitment to be a church for the sake of the world. Today, we have the opportunity to extend and embrace the gift and energy of a leader who came to this country as one of the most vulnerable. ”

Most recently, Krish served as Policy Director for Michelle Obama and led the President’s and First Lady’s signature Let Girls Learn initiative. Before the White House, she served as Senior Advisor at the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, where she coordinated development and implementation of multiple programs including those concerning refugees and migration, engagement with religious communities, the legal dimensions of U.S. foreign policy, and regional issues relating to Africa and the Middle East.

Prior to working in government, Krish worked at McKinsey & Company, practiced law at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C., clerked for Chief Judge Michael Boudin on the U.S. Court of Appeals, studied at Yale for college and law school and at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar, and taught international law at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor.

“For the past 80 years, LIRS has been the national leader in supporting immigrants and refugees beginning their American journey and I am honored to lead this storied organization at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history,” said Krish. “At a time when too many refugees and asylum-seekers are unsure whether they will be welcome in America, I am committed to ensuring that all immigrants seeking a better life in America are afforded the same opportunities as my families received to pursue their dreams.”


Founded in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is one of the largest immigration and refugee resettlement agencies in the United States, and only one of two agencies that helped reunite children with parents after family separations. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership working with and advocating for refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. Through 80 years of service and advocacy, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.

29 thoughts on “LIRS Appoints Krish O’Mara Vignarajah as President and CEO: Choice Represents a New Generation of Leadership”

  1. She is an excellent choice, and perhaps long overdue. I would love for her to come to our Cincinnati Conference to share both her story and her vision. God’s blessings be with and guide you!

  2. Incredible decision reflecting courage and a bold vision for the future and the important voice LIRS needs to have in shaping USA Policy toward refugees and immigrants. Thank you LIRS for your continued leadership and ministry and advocacy. Exciting indeed!

  3. Congratulations to Krish, and to LIRS. She appears an excellent choice with great diverse experience and obvious personal sensitivity to the needs of immigrants and challenges of the position.

    The bio said Krish is a “non-Lutheran.” Can we know more about that aspect of her background.

  4. Welcome and blessings as you assume this leadership role at a critical time in our nation’s journey, especially as fear and bias and polarization threaten and challenge our identity as a welcoming member of the global community.

  5. Thank you, Krish, for joining LIRS to lead us and advance our effectiveness in serving immigrants and refugees.
    I am a retired Lutheran pastor and humbly proud of our Lutheran commitment to serve others as Christ has served us.
    These are difficult times for refugees, not only those seeking a home in America but all around the world where their already desperate living situations are being made worse by national leaders, and their policies, who refuse to accept their responsibility to care for the disenfranchised, the poor and vulnerable, the homeless. I’m sure your work with LIRS is going to be difficult, at times very discouraging, but I hope you will resist and persist in leading us in our ministries of compassion and service.

  6. Congratulations to LIRS on what sounds like a fabulous choice of person to inhabit this leadership role! And welcome, Krish, to a task that will need of strong and clear leading – especially now. Prayers for you and LIRS, and blessings on your work, and the people you will serve.

  7. Congratulations Krish! As your closest neighbor and partner, Christ Lutheran looks forward to meeting you, welcoming you and working with you and LIRS to continue to provide welcome and hope to refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers and the vulnerable. May blessings abound in this time of transition for you, your family and LIRS.

  8. May God continue to grant you insight to see Christ in every face and courage to follow up with actions–and courage to us to follow your leadership.
    Troy Faith Ward,
    Bellingham WA

  9. Congratulations to Krish and LIRS board, for this wonderful choice to lead the organization over these next years. Both Krish’s refugee and broad work experience are signs of the wisdom of this choice. At this moment in our history as a nation and as global citizens, the leadership of LIRS is critical to the lifting up of welcoming and justice for all refugees and immigrants coming to our shores and borders. Thank you for finding a leader to fit the times.

  10. Welcome to Krish! Our LCMS congregation in Columbus, Ohio, Atonement, welcomed 7 refugee families between 1975 and 1992. Jim Smith was our local LIRS coordinator. Our first family, Dwight & Helen Nguyen, came from Dallas to thank us & the families they lived with 30 later in 2005.

  11. Welcome, Krish, to the LIRS family. It has been a joy for us here at Abba’s House to work closely with LIRS to provide a gracious welcome and transition for refugee women and children here in the Houston area. We look forward to working with you, as we continue to press into Christ’s call to protect and serve the vulnerable. I pray that God will give you wisdom, courage, and discernment as you take the helm of this vital organization.

  12. Congratulations Krish! You are so needed in these difficult times. I look forward to meeting you.
    Thank you LIRS board for your awesome choice for leadership.

  13. Welcome, indeed!
    From the early entrance of Lutherans in the American experiment, Lutherans have welcomed the stranger, offering whatever it takes. Since 1939 there’s been a formal resettlement agreement with the federal government. More than I’d like to witness, government has found ways to exclude the stranger. LIRS is an important witness to welcoming the stranger. You have a host of champions who stand with you and yearn for LIRS’ wild success.

  14. Congratulations! What a bright and hopeful future for the ongoing work and ministry of LIRS. I’m so thankful to know an individual with this level of background, experience and expertise will lead the charge of welcoming refugees; those ‘yearning to breathe free’ to our country!

  15. Krish is an excellent choice for the organization as a leader. She will effectively help resolve society’s challenge to support the needs and capabilities of immigrants and refugees seeking America as their home.

  16. Way to go Krish! LIRS will prosper under your leadership and energy. This collaboration happens at a most critical moment in our country’s history. Immigrants are our strength as a nation – – that’s history but our future as well!

  17. Congratulations Krish! Blessings for leadership and guidance according to God’s word. Looking forward to working with LIRS and your team in the future.

  18. Congratulations and blessings to Krish and the LIRS! Your ministry is so important for both the refugees and immigrants seeking safety, new life and opportunity in America and for our nation whose love and openness to the stranger is currently being so tested.

  19. This is fabulous news! Congratulations to Krish and LIRS. Having known and worked with her for several years, it’s clear that Krish has the vision, leadership capacity and commitment to lead LIRS’ vital mission. Thank you for your service to others, Krish. All the best.

  20. Congruatulations Krish. Way to Go. You will help resolve the challenge to immigrants and refugees seeking America as their home. LIRS have made an Awesome choice. American Diversity Group would like to work with you and support LIRS by providing the Preventive Health Screenings and resources for the Health care needs.

  21. Just saw her on MSNBC explaining the latest with Trump administration immigration initiatives, and the problems he is creating. Excellent job explaining. Thanks Krish


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