Lawyers can help Afghan asylum-seekers in U.S.

Thousands of families and individuals persecuted by the Taliban have fled their homes in Afghanistan and are now in the United States seeking asylum. They need the help of U.S. attorneys to present their cases to stay in this country, qualify for work and perhaps seek citizenship.

On January 12, the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration and HIAS teamed up to present a webinar on how lawyers and other legal professionals can help these refugees.

The program, “Asylum 101 for Representing Afghan Parolees,” was the first in a series of presentations for lawyers and accredited representatives helping Afghans seeking asylum. Deena Sharuk, senior legal adviser to the Commission on Immigration, offered advice on the benefits of asylum, how to prepare an application and how to overcome common obstacles. Adonia Simpson, director of policy and pro bono for the ABA Commission on Immigration, moderated.

To be eligible for asylum, Sharuk said, Afghans must be physically present in the United States and unable or unwilling to return to Afghanistan because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social group

Nationality can include ethnic minority groups and tribes, which are particularly important in Afghanistan, and religion might include minority sects of Islam, Sharuk said.

Proving the “well-founded fear” requirement can be difficult, Sharuk said, but it can be demonstrated by showing the client experienced constant surveillance, pressure to be an informer, torture, sexual assault or death threats. The persecutor need not be from the government. It could be someone that the government cannot or will not control, she added.

Some Afghans are reluctant to express their fears to others because it is considered taboo in their cultures, Sharuk said, but it is necessary to obtain asylum. The client’s written statement, she advised, “is an opportunity to tug at the heartstrings of the reader” — the asylum officer who is considering the client’s application.

Sharuk urged lawyers to submit all the evidence they can find to support the “reasonable fear” of returning to Afghanistan and to establish the cause of that fear. That includes audio and text messages, news reports, examples of other people in similar situations, and reports from government agencies on the effect of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

The next webinar in the series will be February 9: “Cultural Humility and Working with Afghan Clients.” Interested lawyers can register at www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/immigration/events-and-cle. Other webinars will cover red flags and bars to asylum (late February) and preparing for the asylum interview (March 15).

To volunteer to help Afghan refugees seeking asylum, sign up at the HIAS website at www.hias.org.


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