/ Blog Post
By Zuhra Aziz, 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Design-Your-Own Fellowship Program. Zuhra is hosted by the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network.
The fall of Afghanistan in 2021 was devastating for many people within the Afghan diaspora, including myself. The Taliban takeover meant a bleak future for most Afghans, especially women, children, minorities, human rights activists, and NATO allies. The de facto government’s values resulted in the reversal of basic rights to education, to travel, to practice faith freely, and to live without fear of harm. As a result, many Afghans fled the country to avoid persecution by the Taliban.
By the end of 2021, over 2.6 million Afghans were displaced after U.S. forces evacuated from Afghanistan. The Biden administration air lifted over 80,000 Afghans, who were then admitted to the U.S. on humanitarian parole status, which allowed evacuees to remain and work in the U.S. for two years and offered them access to government benefits.
Many Afghan evacuees were in legal limbo when they first arrived in the U.S., and many remain so. Without a long-term form of immigration status, they have no way to achieve permanent safety and stability. For most evacuees, seeking asylum is the best chance of remaining safely in the States. A successful asylum application requires applicants to prove they were persecuted in Afghanistan because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion . Although many Afghan evacuees have strong asylum claims, limited access to pro bono legal services, limited language access, and a lack of knowledge about the U.S. immigration system are all barriers to their safety.
Many Afghan evacuees were in legal limbo when they first arrived in the U.S., and many remain so. Without a long-term form of immigration status, they have no way to achieve permanent safety and stability.
Zuhra Aziz /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Some of the biggest challenges we have seen are faced by Afghans who entered the States through the U.S.-Mexico border. Although they face the same danger in Afghanistan as evacuees, they were not lucky enough to take one of the early evacuation flights. Desperate for safety, they traveled to South America and journeyed to the U.S. border to seek asylum. Some entered the U.S. without documentation and must now fight deportation in immigration court. Unlike evacuees, most Afghans who entered through the border are unable to access government benefits and services due to their manner of entry. They must navigate a complex legal system with no supportive resources, despite their escape from the same circumstances as Afghan evacuees.
With my host organization Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), I have provided Afghan newcomers with legal services and connected them to social services for their non-legal needs. Through twelve monthly pro se legal clinics, we have assisted 415 Afghans with filing critical applications for asylum, Temporary Protected Status, and work permits. I have also taken on several affirmative and defensive asylum cases. I recently had one asylum victory for Asadi* , a former Afghan National Army soldier. He wanted a brighter future for the youth of Afghanistan, including his own children. Asadi joined the Afghan National Army because he “cared deeply for [his] country and [he] wanted to help fight to save Afghanistan’s future.” For three years, he served alongside the U.S. Army before the Taliban took over the country. During the takeover, he fought with his comrades to defend their home province. When hope faded and the Taliban gained ground, he supported U.S. evacuation efforts until he was evacuated from the country along with his wife and children.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Asadi lost his wife and unborn child in a terrible accident. He was alone in a new country with his remaining children and a looming parole expiration ahead. Losing his parole status would mean returning to Afghanistan, where he feared he would be murdered due to his previous work. To help Asadi seek protection in the U.S., GAIN assisted him with his asylum application. After months of anxiety and anticipation, Asadi was finally granted asylum. He can now remain in this country and secure a brighter future for himself and his children.
After months of anxiety and anticipation, Asadi was finally granted asylum. He can now remain in this country and secure a brighter future for himself and his children.
Zuhra Aziz /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Through my Fellowship, I have helped strengthen GAIN’s partnership with immigrant-serving agencies like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Atlanta and Refugee Women’s Network (RWN) to better serve Afghan clients. We view the client as a person, not a case. We understand the varying needs that arise, including rental assistance, employment matching, food assistance, and mental health services. When a client expresses a need outside of GAIN’s legal services, we refer them to a network of trusted partner organizations for support. We are proud to have dependable partners that are as eager to serve the immigrant community as we are.
GAIN’s mission is to protect and empower immigrant survivors of crime and persecution. We approach our legal service work from a collaborative, client-centered, and trauma-informed lens. It may take years for new immigrants to reach a point where their legal uncertainties and resettlement process have concluded. An important indicator of success is the progress our clients make toward achieving safety and stability—even before the final resolution of their immigration cases. Each work authorization granted means that a parent can support their family. Each TPS approval means that a citizen of a country in turmoil can remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Each referral to non-legal services means a client’s needs are holistically met, which allows them to build a full, rich life in the United States. Achieving permanent immigration status in the U.S. is a journey, not a trip, for many of our Afghan clients. We are happy to serve as guides along the way.
*The name of the client has been changed to protect privacy.
To learn more about Zuhra’s Equal Justice Works Fellowship, visit her profile here.