leah phifer-3.jpg

Meet Leah

"I began my career raising my right hand and swearing to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. For years, I worked for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, enforcing laws written in the name of national security. As a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, I worked in the shadows, while a gridlocked Congress put their political aspirations ahead of our futures. Friends and neighbors treated one another as adversaries, instead of fellow Americans working towards the same goal. As the political turmoil grew, threatening our values and our safety, I knew I had to make a change."

A native of Two Harbors, Leah and her family boast a long history of Iron Range roots. For four generations, the women in her family ran small businesses, while the men worked in the Iron Range mining industry. Growing up along the shores of Lake Superior, with a cabin on One Pine Lake in Ely, water became a constant presence in her life. Living near the water shaped her upbringing and she would often walk to the ore docks in Two Harbors to watch the massive boats share Minnesota’s precious resources with the world.

Growing up, Leah viewed languages as a way to see the world through the eyes of another and went on to study Spanish at the University of Connecticut. She studied abroad in Spain during the 2002/2003 academic year. Madrid suffered a deadly terrorist attack on their train system that year, killing 192 people. Leah returned to Spain after college to teach English for two years, often discussing with Spaniards the devastating effects of the Franco dictatorship on their country. It was during those years abroad that Leah acquired an awareness of the corrosive power of authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations, a perspective that went on to shape her career back in Minnesota.  

During summer breaks from college and the Spanish school year, Leah worked and lived with her family in their new home of Isanti. She returned to Minnesota for good in 2008, securing a position as a contractor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where she used her Spanish fluency to guide undocumented immigrants through an alternative-to-detention program.  In 2010 she was hired by ICE, working in mission support in the St. Paul Field Office. She spent six years immersed in the complexities of the immigration legal system, seeing first-hand the toll that policy inaction takes on communities.

In 2015, after graduating from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Leah accepted a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In June 2015, she left for the FBI academy in Quantico, VA to train as an Intelligence Analyst. Upon completion of the three-month training program, she was assigned to the Minneapolis FBI office. Her work focused on counter-terrorism investigations, including the investigation of a group of young men attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS and the St. Cloud mall stabbing of November 2016. While working for the FBI was one of the greatest honors of her life, Leah could not remain idle while political turmoil and partisan grandstanding threatened her work and the livelihoods of her friends and neighbors. She left the FBI in May of 2017 to launch "Around the 8th in 80 Days" - a listening tour culminating in her decision to run for Minnesota's 8th district seat in Congress. She is now employed as adjunct faculty at Augsburg University for the 2017/2018 school year. She finds great joy in teaching Politics and Policy of Immigration and Political Methodology courses to undergraduate students.