In 2018, Tahirih opened our newest office in Atlanta, Georgia. We chose to work in Atlanta because we knew the need was so great. Atlanta has some of the lowest rates of legal representation in immigration court in the country and it’s been called an “asylum-free zone.” The asylum grant rate has been under 10% in Atlanta for the past decade. When we opened our doors five years ago in 2018, 98% of asylum cases were being denied in Atlanta according to Department of Justice statistics.
Looking back over the last five years, our Atlanta team has accomplished great things – building partnerships in the community, advocating for local and state policies that protect the rights and safety of immigrant survivors and all Georgians, and filing difficult appeals cases to help shift that asylum grant rate so that more people fleeing violence can access safety. Most importantly, hundreds of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence and their families have received free legal representation and supportive social services to help them on their journeys to safety and justice.
Here are some highlights of our work over the past five years.
- Launched the Atlanta Appellate Project in collaboration with Emory University and the Mayor of Atlanta’s Office to address the underlying bias, unfair practices, and misapplications of law that make the Atlanta immigration courts such a difficult place to win asylum. We filed our first 3 appeals with the Board of Immigration Appeals and 1 appeal in federal court.
- Partnered with actor and Tahirih supporter Penn Badgley on a campaign featured in 12 media outlets to successfully obtain the release of our client Vilma from detention.
- Tahirih Atlanta’s inaugural Executive Director served as co-chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Immigrant Detention that advised then Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to end the city’s detention contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ensuring that the city jail will not be used to house immigrants who are pursuing legal protection.
- In October 2019, HBO released Torn Apart: Separated at the Border, a documentary featuring Tahirih Atlanta client, Vilma Carrillo, and her journey to reunite with her daughter, Yeisvi. Read Vilma’s story. While Vilma and Yeisvi were reunited, thanks to strong advocacy and media attention, Vilma’s asylum case in the Atlanta Immigration Court is still pending.
- In partnership with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Tahirih organized a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border led by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, taking a first-hand look at the impact of U.S. immigration and refugee policy.
- Engaged in broad-based coalition work to pass a bill, signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, to raise the legal age of marriage in Georgia and prevent child marriages.
- Partnered with the Candide Group, El Refugio, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), and the Sapelo Foundation to lead a day-long trip to the infamous Stewart Detention Center. This trip gathered funders from Georgia and across the country for an opportunity to learn more about the positive impact philanthropy can have on the ever-changing immigration and asylum space in the United States.
- Supported clients’ emergent needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing comprehensive care packages to clients and their families with the help of various grant awards, community partnerships, and gifts from generous donors. These care packages included food, personal protective equipment, gift cards, and tablets to help students continue their education.
- Received Tahirih Atlanta’s first T visa approvals in April for two clients, that recognized the validity of their trafficking claims and allowed them to stay in the U.S. on a path to citizenship. The approvals mark a major milestone for the Atlanta office.
- 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 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.
- Welcomed Vanessa Wilkins as our second Executive Director in Atlanta, who brings extensive leadership as well as capacity-building experience working with survivors in Georgia.
- Facilitated several community outreach initiatives including a presentation to the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s membership, education outreach to a local community in collaboration with Vecinos de Buford Highway, and participation in Fulton County’s International Resource Fair.
- Amplified client voices in the media, including by sharing our client Brenda’s powerful story of survival and healing in a Univision segment on human trafficking.
- Formed a partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta, through which Eileen Espinal, Social Services Program Manager, appeared as an expert on a community panel, and we received funding to provide housing assistance to trafficking survivors.
- Presented at the annual Georgia Commission on Family Violence conference on how to identify and support survivors and those at risk of forced marriage in partnership with Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative.
As we look forward to the rest of 2023 and beyond, we know that positive change to support immigrant survivors of gender-based violence in Atlanta is possible. We recently relaunched our Atlanta Appellate Project with support from our pro bono network and partners to fight for fairer outcomes for all immigrants in Atlanta’s immigration courts. We’re partnering with our State domestic violence coalition (GCADV) and public policy team to advocate for a statewide address confidentiality program to help protect survivors of domestic violence.
Thank you to the Atlanta community for welcoming us and working with us over the past five years. We look forward to what we can accomplish together in the future.