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Special Projects

afghan asylum project

Tahirih was uniquely positioned to support refugees arriving in the United States following the crisis in Afghanistan. In September, we launched the Afghan Asylum Project, which included a dedicated, toll-free helpline through which trauma-informed staff connected Afghan citizens to information, resources, and partner organizations that could offer on-the-ground support. The helpline also offered initial assessments for gender-based asylum claims for those in need of legal representation.

In 2021, we:

  • Provided referrals and/or asylum screenings for more than 100 newly arrived Afghans and their families.
  • Offered a training for 383 attendees from top law firms in our Pro Bono Network about how to maximize our capacity to represent Afghans seeking gender-based asylum.
  • Worked with the U.S. Department of State, Georgetown University’s Institute for Peace and Security, Vital Voices, and Mina’s List to assist Afghan women leaders — including lawyers, journalists, and politicians — with legal screenings, which will affect more than 150 Afghans overall.
  • Formed a legal cohort with Mayer Brown and more than 20 pro bono partners to provide asylum representation to 147 Afghan women who had been studying remotely in Afghanistan before making their way to the U.S.
  • Visited female Afghan refugees on a military base to offer safety planning and information to those who had traveled with their abusers.
  • Engaged in extensive technical assistance and training for government agencies working to prevent and respond to incidences of gender-based violence at the U.S. military bases where Aghan refugees were being housed temporarily (also known as “Safe Havens”).
Screenshot of webinar title slide "Gender-Based Asylum for Afghan Nationals by Archi Pyati, Tahirih CEO, Sasha Bershad, Supervising Attorney, November 9, 2021. Features photo of a young woman with scarf and 3 webinar presenters on webcams.
Photo of 3 women collaborating at a table. The woman at the focal point of the image is wearing a head scarf and writing on a piece of paper at the center of the 3 women.

ensuring equal and enduring access to gender-based asylum

Gender is a fundamental, intrinsic aspect of an individual’s identity — just like race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership in “a particular social group,” all of which are currently protected grounds for asylum. When the Refugee Convention was written more than 70 years ago, gender inequality — and the manifestation of that inequality as violence — was not widely recognized as a serious human rights abuse, so it was not included on the list of protected grounds.

Gender-based violence is a widespread epidemic today. To ensure equal and enduring access to asylum for survivors, the United States must join the more than 25 countries that have updated their laws to provide access to asylum on account of one’s gender.

In 2021, we:

  • Launched a campaign and published a report to advocate for gender to be explicitly named in U.S. asylum laws as a protected ground for asylum to recognize the needs of survivors of gender-based violence and safeguard their human rights.
  • Led a nationwide, collaborative effort to develop recommendations for how the new administration can enhance asylum protections for survivors of gender-based violence.
  • Educated the public on this issue in outlets such as the Washington Post, 19th News, and Univision.
Report cover: photo of young Asian woman looking concerned, with title "Ensuring Equal and Enduring Access to Aslyum"
The United States must join the more than 25 countries that have updated their laws to provide access to asylum on account of one’s gender.

The asylum application said nothing about being afraid of violence because I am a woman and I had no idea that I could or should talk about that. If it had, my lawyer could have been more helpful. And maybe the officer would have asked me about it. I could have had the chance to explain how women are treated at home — because they are women.

Maya (pseudonym), a survivor of gender-based violence seeking asylum

Local Offices

Our award-winning model of service assisted clients in four high-need locations across the U.S.
illustration of map of the U.S. state of Georgia with pin where Atlanta appears on the map.


In 2021, Tahirih Atlanta:

  • Conducted local training sessions that reached 186 community members.
  • Expanded our partnership with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants for our Trafficking Victim Assistance Program so we can provide financial support to trafficking survivors in Georgia.
  • Partnered with the Georgia State University School of Social Work to establish an internship program that helps students seeking a master’s degree in social work gain skills and expand their knowledge of client-centered, community-empowering practices of radical and ethical case management.
  • Expanded our legal services department’s capacity to offer immigration expertise to families when Nowmee Shehab changed position from Law Clerk to Staff Attorney after passing the bar exam.
  • Welcomed two new team members: Executive Director Vanessa Wilkins, who brings extensive leadership as well as capacity-building experience working with survivors in Georgia; and Social Services Advocate Dulce Jacobo, whose background in holistic case management will enable us to continue providing targeted and skilled support to families.

Individuals Impacted in Atlanta Through Free Legal Services

Pie chart showing 86 people served by Tahirih's Atlanta office in 2021

55 individuals

31 family members

Atlanta by the Numbers


clients and their family members connected to vital social services


pro bono attorneys who co-counseled cases


community members and frontline professionals trained

illustration of map of the Washington, DC area with a pin where Tahirih's Arlington, VA office appears on the map.

Greater DC-Baltimore Region

In 2021, Tahirih Greater DC-Baltimore Region:

  • Pivoted to regional coverage and delivered services to individuals across a service area of about 112 miles and 22 jurisdictions.
  • Distributed nearly $17,000 in financial assistance to clients to help them with basic needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Trained professionals across disciplines such as domestic violence advocates, pro bono attorneys, and graduate students on legal remedies and policy updates, as well as on how to provide culturally specific, trauma-informed care to immigrant survivors of gender-based violence.
  • Hosted the first quarterly Pro Bono Coffee Hour to engage with the Pro Bono Network about efficiencies and needs.

Individuals Impacted in the Greater DC-Baltimore Region Through Free Legal Services

Pie chart showing 949 people served by Tahirih's DC and Baltimore regional office in 2021

558 individuals

391 family members

Greater DC-Baltimore Region by the Numbers


clients and their family members connected to vital social services


clients provided family law services


pro bono attorneys who co-counseled cases


community members and frontline professionals trained

illustration of map of the U.S. state of Texas with a pin where Houston appears on the map.


In 2021, Tahirih Houston:

  • Implemented our first Kitchen Table Conversations cohort, which invests in survivors as change agents and has built a community and collective power.
  • Published two reports (researched by Weil Legal Innovator Julia Bevan) on the pandemic’s impacts on non-detained immigrants currently in the immigration court system and the effect of the pandemic on immigration detention.
  • Developed a model U visa certification policy, in coalition with Harris County, to guide our region’s law enforcement agencies to expand access to the law enforcement certification survivors need to access immigration protection, with a focus on ensuring survivors receive trauma-informed support that centers their safety and rights.
  • Secured $58,000 for survivors of gender-based violence after winter storm Uri devastated the Houston area, as well as an additional $23,000 in COVID-19 disaster relief funding.
  • Expanded our work in surrounding counties, including Montgomery and Fort Bend, to ensure more individuals seeking assistance have access to trauma-informed, client-centered services.
  • Welcomed three new staff members: Executive Director Lubabah Abdullah, who brings more than 20 years of nonprofit experience and more than 15 years of legal experience; Amanda Hua, Development Associate, who will lead the efforts for mid-level giving and start a young professionals group; and our second Weil Legal Innovator, Sofia Barbosa, who will help us increase access to health care for survivors and their families.

Individuals Impacted in Houston Through Free Legal Services

Pie chart showing 1,246 people served by Tahirih's Houston office in 2021

692 individuals

554 family members

Houston by the Numbers


clients and their family members connected to vital social services


clients provided family law services


pro bono attorneys who co-counseled cases


community members and frontline professionals trained

illustration of map of the U.S. state of California with a pin where San Francisco appears on the map.

San Francisco Bay Area

In 2021, Tahirih San Francisco Bay Area:

  • Expanded our impact by formally joining the Collaborative Resources for Immigrant Services on the Peninsula (CRISP), a project in which a group of community-based organizations provide legal and social services.
  • Organized and coordinated outreach events and legal clinics for more than 800 community members, pro bono attorneys, lawyers, social services and mental health professionals, and medical students.
  • Distributed more than $35,000 in financial assistance to clients to help them with basic needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Spearheaded client-centered Tech Access Projects under the leadership of Tahirih San Francisco Bay Area’s Weil Legal Innovator, Zoe Verni, including Google Maps resource lists, a direct cash transfer pilot program in collaboration with My New Red Shoes, and short “Tech 101” educational videos for clients, pro bono attorneys, and other service providers around the country.
  • Welcomed two Staff Attorneys, Meghan Berman and Natasha Prince; Managing Attorney Payal Sinha; and Social Worker Valeria Monroy to assist with client needs, enhance our interdisciplinary practices, and provide holistic, trauma-informed client services.

Individuals Impacted in the San Francisco Bay Area Through Free Legal Services

Pie chart showing 321 people served by Tahirih's San Francisco Bay Area office in 2021

254 individuals

67 family members

San Francisco Bay Area by the Numbers


clients and their family members connected to vital social services


client provided family law services


pro bono attorneys who co-counseled cases


community members and frontline professionals trained

Photo of young non-binary presenting person of color with short dredlocks and plaid scarf. Positive facial expression communicating strength and resilience.

Explore Our 2021 Impact Report