The Tahirih Justice Center provides holistic, client-centered legal services to immigrant women and girls who have a legitimate claim to legal status under United States immigration law as survivors of gender-based violence. However, our clients have the odds stacked against them when they enter our immigration system, as our court system is not designed to address the unique needs of asylum seekers who have experienced this form of persecution. In Atlanta, Georgia, where Tahirih’s newest office is located, immigrant clients fleeing gender-based violence face a uniquely harsh system. The Atlanta Immigration Court has the highest asylum denial rate in the country – 98% — compared with over 50% of asylum claims being granted in other parts of the country. To help remedy the injustices and due process issues in this court system, Tahirih founded the Atlanta Appellate Project. One of these incredible staff members who strives to address these systemic problems through legal action is Tahirih Atlanta Senior Staff Attorney, Lynn Pearson.
Growing up in Jamaica, Lynn gained a unique perspective on race and inequality by seeing the stark contrast between her privilege and opportunity and those of local children. As a young woman, Lynn became committed to fighting for human rights and social justice as a career. Following law school, she worked at a nonprofit representing persons on Georgia’s death row in appeals and federal litigation, including a victory in the United States Supreme Court based on racial bias, Tharpe v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 545 (2018).
Lynn learned about Tahirih while doing pro bono immigration work with the Southern Poverty Law Center. As her awareness increased of the tremendous injustices in the asylum system, she was compelled to get even more involved.
As Senior Staff Attorney, Lynn has a special focus on the Tahirih Atlanta Appellate Project, the perfect marriage of her appellate background and long-held interest in human rights:
“The most rewarding part of working at Tahirih is empowering clients to exercise their rights to the immigration relief to which they are entitled. Atlanta is an especially hard place to be an immigrant with harsh state laws, an immigration court rife with due process issues, and few nonprofits taking on these types of cases. Given this environment, it is especially rewarding to work on our Appellate Project and be able to reassure clients that even if we suffer an initial loss in their case, we will keep fighting for them.”
Lynn works directly with clients and the talented pro bono attorneys that take on their cases. Her schedule varies every day — sometimes she is in immigration court advocating for a client or writing a brief appealing an unjust decision, and other times she is presenting to community members about the unique challenges and needs of the immigrant community in Georgia.
“Working in this field, it becomes painfully clear that many key decision-makers in our country — such as judges and legislators — still do not view domestic and sexual violence against women with the same gravity that they do other social issues. Nor do they recognize it as a global problem with sweeping societal implications. Tahirih’s work to elevate these issues on legal, policy, and community levels is critical to changing the existing narratives surrounding gender-based violence.”
While it is challenging to work in this environment, it is rewarding when she is able to take a bad decision for an asylum case and appeal it to a higher court. Tahirih’s work not only helps individual clients achieve justice, but can potentially improve the immigration system overall.
“One of the highlights of my legal career was seeing my client Vilma Carrillo released from detention after months of being separated from her daughter. After Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rejected our requests to release her, I filed a habeas petition — a special type of federal lawsuit— challenging Vilma’s detention as unconstitutional. I’ll never forget the moment when the U.S. Attorney called to tell me ICE had finally decided to release Vilma, or the hug I got to give her before she boarded a plane to reunite with her daughter!”