~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.~
Following the highly-publicized case of Fauziya Kassindja that established gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum, Layli Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center after receiving an outpouring of pleas for help from women like Fauziya in desperate need of legal representation. Since then, Tahirih’s legal team, now spanning five offices across the country and working alongside a Pro Bono Network of more than 2,500 attorneys, has served tens of thousands of women and children fleeing gender-based human rights abuses. This team includes Tahirih Greater DC’s Immigration and Family Law Attorney, Sasha Bershad.
Sasha always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Even as a child, her parents said she would make a great attorney. But it was a sociology of gender course in college that exposed her to human trafficking for the first time, sparking her interest in gender-based law. She soon started researching, reading, and learning more about the nuances of human trafficking and gender-based legal issues.
Born in Moldova, Sasha’s family moved to the United States when she was a young child for fear of religious persecution as Jews living in the former Soviet Union. As part of an immigrant family, she witnessed the hurdles that her parents endured. Although both were well educated, degrees from their home country did not pull any weight in the U.S., creating obstacles for employment and raising a family.
“As a law student, all of the experiences in my life started to intersect. I started to think more about asylees and refugees. I always knew I wanted to focus on public interest work, but everything started to fall into place.”
She started working with the refugee and human rights clinic at her law school in northern California, and her first case was representing a young gay Mexican man, helping him obtain asylum.
“Seeing that journey was so incredible. I worked with two other clinical students on a team and our client was finally granted asylum after a full year of advocacy. From there, I continued on that path in hopes to serve more asylum-seekers find safety in the U.S. Although I had the background of an immigrant, my life was so different than the clients’ we served.”
As an immigration and family law attorney, Sasha’s day-to-day is never the same. Much of her time is spent working in the office on client cases, but she can also be seen in family court or accompanying pro bono attorneys to hearings in immigration court.
“My favorite part is when I get to meet with the clients and give them updates on their cases or explain to them current practices and policies in immigration, helping them to understand why their case is taking so long. I love being someone that is responsive, someone they can trust on their journey to protection. Tahirih can help women and girls seeking safety arrive to the place they want to be in their lives, and it is so rewarding.”
Sasha’s resounding love for Tahirih and her work does not come without its challenges. In the past few years, anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric has plagued societies around the world, and the U.S. is no exception. Shifting policies in the U.S. have further narrowed the path to asylum and stripped immigrant protections, especially for women and survivors of gender-based violence.
“When people ask me why it is our responsibility to take in immigrants, I tell them it is our collective responsibility, as a world, to protect those that are fleeing horrific injustices. If we, as individuals, and as a nation, are in a position where we can do that, why shouldn’t we?”
For Sasha, the ultimate goal is simple:
“Everything goes back to the greater mission of wanting to live in a world where there is true equality. And that is going to take generations and generations of work.”