~This web series takes a deep dive into the Tahirih Justice Center’s challenging yet rewarding work, and the champions who show up day after day to get it done.~
In 1997, Layli Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center following the highly-publicized case of Fauziya Kassindja that established gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum. Immediately following the case, Layli received an outpouring of pleas for help from immigrant women and girls who desperately needed legal representation. Since then, Tahirih’s legal team has grown to span five offices across the country and works closely with more than 2,500 attorneys in Tahirih’s Pro Bono Network. Together, this collective has served tens of thousands of women and children fleeing gender-based violence and includes the work of Tahirih Baltimore’s Supervising Attorney, Deepa Bijpuria.
Deepa joined Tahirih 7 years ago and remains as inspired and moved by her clients today as she did while working her first immigration cases. As the daughter of immigrant parents, Deepa considers her personal circumstance one of the biggest motivations in her professional work.
“If I was born at a different time, to different parents, I could be one of my clients. I recognize the privilege that I have. I believe our clients deserve that same freedom to be able to pursue their dreams without fear of violence.”
Interestingly, immigration law was not Deepa’s initial chosen path. After graduating from law school, she started working in the private sector, but it didn’t take long to realize that something very real was missing.
“I got a lucky break. I had an opportunity with a small immigration project and I found my life’s work. Very quickly I realized that I wanted to serve survivors of gender-based violence, helping them seek safety and justice.”
As Deepa started working in immigration law, she was immediately hooked by the transformative nature of attaining immigration status – not only for clients, but for their children. Deepa saw that her work had a multiplied impact that would touch generations to come.
“It really is a life changing experience, and to be able to serve my clients and have that much impact makes my heart sing. From that first immigration case, I felt something inside. I felt my heart opening up and I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
Deepa’s role as Supervising Attorney in the Baltimore office is to be not only an advocate for her clients, but for the legal staff that she mentors on a daily basis. Deepa knows that in order to provide the best possible representation and counsel on behalf of clients, staff must maintain a healthy work life balance, feel heard and supported, and perhaps most importantly, see how their work is all part of the bigger picture.
“Not only do we have a clear commitment to advocating for our clients one case at a time, but it is our holistic approach that includes community education and public policy advocacy that makes Tahirih’s work extraordinary. Tahirih recognizes the importance of changing one life, one family, one community at a time, as well as fighting for changes in our laws, systems, and society as a whole.”
Still, this line of work and the current political climate make parts of Deepa’s job incredibly difficult.
“The challenge is working in a system that doesn’t hold protecting immigrant women and girls at the high level of importance it deserves. To be under an administration, in a community, a country, where those equal rights shouldn’t be challenged – but they are.”
Deepa believes it’s really quite simple. There are laws in place right now that protect survivors of gender-based violence and should be adhered to in all courts.
“Our clients are not coming to the U.S. and demanding new laws. These are not new laws that our clients are entitled to – they have been enshrined for over 60 years. We are advocating for laws that are already in place.”
And while there is no shortage of obstacles within our justice system and current political climate that need to be remedied, there is also no shortage of inspiration and hope for the future while working with survivors of violence.
“I find my clients to be inspiring. When we are able to provide them with opportunities – how they take those opportunities and run with them. How their resilience and determination change their own lives and the lives of their families. When I see their daughters and sons take advantage of the sacrifices their mom took to make better lives for themselves and even their children, it is incredibly inspirational.”
And for Deepa, the work that she does has a ripple effect that touches all corners of the world, including her own.
“I truly believe the work that we do at Tahirih is creating a better world for my children. I do believe the work we do is making a community and a world where my son and my daughter can be safe. I do it for them as much as I do it for my clients.”