This August will mark two years since the crisis in Afghanistan forced thousands of Afghan citizens to flee to the United States seeking safety with urgent needs for legal and social services as they sought to rebuild their lives. We launched our Afghan Asylum Project shortly after with the goal of supporting as many refugees as possible with their asylum cases and getting access to health care, food, shelter, and the other basics they would need right away.
We are recognizing the work of the Afghan Asylum Project this month by highlighting some of our incredible pro bono partners. Amanda Miller is an Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, who took her first asylum case representing a client in the Afghan Asylum Project who recently won asylum!
Why did you choose to take a case with Tahirih?
I’ve always been interested in asylum law. In college, I took a class from an adjunct professor who practices immigration, refugee and asylum law in Chicago. It was a practical course where we did a mock trial representing a fictional asylum client. I think it’s one of the most impactful areas of the law because you’re able to change someone’s life through legal advocacy. If I can use my knowledge and skills to file an asylum application, even if it seems like a relatively small task to me, it has the potential to permanently impact someone else’s life.
After I took that college class, I remained interested and earned a Witkin Award for my performance in my law school’s asylum law course. Immediately upon joining Simpson Thacher, I became involved in the Firm’s pro bono efforts, helping with country conditions reports and other tasks for asylum applicants. A couple of years in, I agreed to take on a full-scope case for an Afghan woman from the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, in partnership with Tahirih.
This was my first asylum case. Though I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, I knew I was ready. It’s been such a rewarding experience. I’m working on another asylum case now with a different nonprofit partner, so I’m building on the knowledge and experience I gained from working with Tahirih.
Are there one or two highlights or lessons learned from this case that you can share?
A big thing that I learned is how much communication between the attorney and the client is necessary to get their full story and finalize all of the necessary details. While it is critical to present a client’s complete story, it can sometimes be difficult to elicit all of the details from the client because some events are traumatic or simply difficult to remember within the broader timeline. Consistency in the timeline and the details is so important in asylum applications. But I welcomed the challenge of putting together someone else’s story, and it was a great way to use my narrative writing skills.
The most meaningful aspect of this experience was getting to meet my client in person before accompanying her to her asylum interview. Just seeing the joy on her face to meet me and how much it meant to her . . . there’s nothing like it.
How has taking this pro bono case with Tahirih impacted your career?
It’s solidified for me one of the reasons why I went to law school – to advocate for people and use my tools of argument and reasoning to help people. Taking on pro bono work is extremely important to me and this case allowed me to truly make a difference. If I hadn’t taken this case, I’m sure events may have turned out very differently for my client.
Now I’m continuing to focus on asylum law pro bono cases and really building up that skillset. It’s given me more confidence in myself, too, to see how much I can do.
Why was it important to you to support Tahirih’s mission through pro bono service?
As a woman, I am acutely aware of the unique issues that we face. Gender-based persecution has always been an interesting area of the law for me because it’s not a specified ground for asylum per se. It’s under the “particular social group” category, so there are many different avenues for arguments. There is a lot of advocacy needed to hopefully solidify gender as its own ground for asylum recognition both in the U.S. and worldwide.
I really appreciate that Tahirih focuses particularly on gender-based asylum claims.
What would you say to others who are considering working on a case with Tahirih?
The entire team at Tahirih was incredibly supportive and provided excellent supervision and guidance. The weekly office hours were a huge help, particularly when hearing everyone else’s questions and Tahirih’s answers. Additionally, the Tahirih attorneys were always available for questions and provided helpful and thorough responses. Everyone was very friendly and their passion for work is palpable, which is very motivating.
Beyond having the chance to work with an extraordinary team at Tahirih, the experience of helping to alleviate some of the burden for my client was incredibly meaningful. She mentioned how stressed she was waiting almost a year for her approval after submitting the application. It goes so much farther than just legal relief; it’s actual physical and emotional relief too.