When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, the Biden Administration hurriedly evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans to the United States through Humanitarian Parole. While this allowed Afghans to resettle in the United States quickly and safely, it provided no path to permanent residency.
LSSNCA served the largest number of Afghan Allies on the East Coast – more than 4,500 — since Summer 2021. As the one-year filing deadline for asylum approached in August 2022, ensuring legal permanency for our new neighbors posed a challenge. Enter Sahar Taman, Esq., and Alison Tabor, Esq. who approached LSSNCA with the idea to leverage LSSNCA’s network of community volunteers to launch pro se (do it yourself) asylum declaration workshops for Afghan Allies. These workshops were the answer to the months-long wait for pro bono immigration attorneys, and the needed support for the emotional process of applying for asylum.
LSSNCA was the first resettlement agency to launch pro se asylum workshops, led by Sahar and Alison who guided LSSNCA volunteers through 12 asylum declaration workshops in Virginia serving more than 415 Afghan Allies by the end of Summer 2022.
Sahar and Alison created the blueprints and led the path for the ongoing pro se workshops. Today, the pro se workshops continue, and have grown to include additional immigration relief workshops held at our Resource Center including intake screenings, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) clinics, and Employment Authorization Declaration (EAD) clinics.
We recently caught up with Tiana Russell and Susie Hoffman of Crowell & Morning LLP who are partnering with us to execute these latest workshops and clinics. Tiana and Susie work on a women-led legal team of six who partner with organizations offering pro bono immigration legal. The team has been working with LSSNCA’s legal services department and a host of volunteers to address the needs of Afghan Allies. Crowell was first introduced to the work through their client, Accenture, another LSSNCA pro se asylum workshop partner.
“We initially assisted the refugees in drafting their declaration, which is a key piece of their asylum applications and it’s basically a narrative of what happened to them in their home country and why they fear persecution if they return,” Susie explained.
Attorneys initially signed on to assist with the declaration, and for the most vulnerable cases, attorneys have volunteered to provide “full scope” representation by continuing to help individuals that they met with through the entire asylum process. Susie explains the significance of the attorneys’ decision to stay on, “90 percent of clients with representation throughout the process are granted asylum.” So far, nearly a dozen program participants have been granted asylum.
The team is keenly aware of the magnitude of the work they do. Tiana recalls, “a quote that’s always stuck with me is that doing asylum work is like doing death penalty work in a traffic court setting. There are enormous risks and dangers on the line. I think that’s a very apt description of this type of work.”
“I think that quote is saying that you are literally saving someone’s life,” Susie clarifies.
Crowell first started providing pro bono services in 1996 for gender-based domestic violence cases. Today, the attorneys note that within the asylum workshops, there are still cases with delicate gender-based claims. Tiana noted that they’ve “[actually] been doing a lot of gender-based immigration work.”
Tiana and Susie both describe their pro bono work as a humbling experience and find inspiration in clients’ perseverance.
“This work is inspiring because you see people trying to help from all walks of life. You get to see the best of people,” said Tiana. She also noted that “[w]orking with LSSNCA has been a joy and a treat. The lawyers are extremely professional and accommodating. They bring expertise, kindness and humanity.”
We thank Sahar, Alison, Tiana, Susie, the entire Crowell & Morning LLP team, as well as Accenture and all our volunteers for the countless hours of dedication and support to assist Afghan Allies creating new homes in the DMV area.