When Tahirih launched our Afghan Asylum Project in August 2021, we knew it would be a massive undertaking that would require a lot of support from our staff and our pro bono partners. Our pro bono partners have stepped up to meet that challenge. The pro bono legal team at Morrison Foerster represented 18 clients, including six asylum applicants along with their spouses and children, through our Afghan Asylum Project. The Morrison Foerster case team consisted of Carrie H. Cohen, Vanshika Vij, Jasmine Arooni, Justin Young, Mohammed Alismail, Karen Leung, Katherine Kubak, Zach Fuchs, Lily Smith, Sara Stearns, Clara Chilian, Fahd Patel, and Shouvik Biswas. We spoke with Vanshika Vij and Carrie H. Cohen, two members of the pro bono case team at Morrison Foerster, about their experience representing Afghan asylum seekers and doing pro bono work with Tahirih.
Initially the team at Morrison Foerster represented one Afghan woman through the Afghan Asylum Project as part of a larger pro bono initiative in collaboration with the International Legal Foundation. Their client was an attorney from Afghanistan who had represented women and children at an NGO and later worked for the Afghan government.
The team soon learned that their client’s family had also been evacuated from Afghanistan and none of them had representation. Morrison Foerster made the commitment to expand their representation to file asylum claims for the entire extended family, serving a total of 18 family members.
The team at Morrison Foerster built strong connections to the family as they guided them through the asylum process. “It was incredibly rewarding to get to know our clients on a personal level and hear about their experiences,” said Vanshika. “The whole family was involved in government service and really cared about making Afghanistan a better place. Their personal histories and work made it all the more urgent and of the moment to make sure that they were all being advocated for.”
Taking on this many cases at once created certain challenges. Each of the family’s asylum claims needed to be built into a holistic story that supported and validated each application. Working through interpreters was also a challenge, especially as the pro bono team needed to build trust with the clients to share very personal, traumatic experiences. Fortunately, Tahirih was able to recommend high quality interpreters who worked on all the cases consistently and gained the family’s trust.
“Part of the reason we felt confident, especially going from one person to 18 total clients, is that we could leverage the resources of Tahirih,” said Vanshika. “Louise Moss from Tahirih was our advisor. She not only made herself available to us, but she also advised our clients so that she could give them a more bird’s eye view of the asylum landscape. It felt like we had Tahirih in our corner.”
One highlight of the experience was meeting the family in person for the first time on the day of their asylum interview. Morrison Foerster provided resources for members of pro bono team, clients, and their interpreter to stay in the same hotel in Houston for the interview, including travel. The team felt grateful to be there and serve as a support network for the family.
For other law firms and attorneys considering pro bono work on immigration issues, Vanshika shared that pro bono work, particularly asylum cases, can be a great way for associates to work on all parts of a case from start to finish, from fact gathering to legal writing to interview preparation and then be able to see the impact of your work for an individual client. “The impact of keeping a person in the United States when what they might face were they to go back to their home country is so dire is incredibly rewarding,” said Vanshika.
“Law firms often partner with different organizations. Tahirih knows how to make that partnership successful and understands how law firms are structured and how people work,” said Carrie. “You give the attorneys working with you jointly on matters the resources and the background that we need to provide a truly successful representation.”
All the team’s hard work has started paying off. The first client they took on has received asylum, and we are hopeful the rest of the family will receive positive news soon.
Morrison Foerster’s assistance to Afghan refugees has been among the largest pro bono undertakings in firm history. Some 200 lawyers and staff conducted 150 detailed intake interviews to determine individual Afghans’ eligibility for relief. 50 firm lawyers began representing Afghan refugees seeking asylum or other routes to permanent resettlement. In addition to their Tahirih clients, the firm is representing 12 other Afghan families in their quest for legal status in the United States, with some having been granted asylum while others still await decisions.
If you are an attorney interested in learning more about Tahirih’s pro bono opportunities, please visit our FAQ page and sign up to join our network to receive email updates and see case opportunities.