Pro Bono Spotlight: Gibson Dunn Attorneys Reflect on Their Client's Path to Asylum
The work CAIR Coalition performs for the detained immigrant population of the Capital area would not be possible without the hard work and passionate advocacy of the attorneys who volunteer to take on clients pro bono. Recently, we had the pleasure of working with three attorneys from Gibson Dunn as they secured a grant of asylum for a young woman from Afghanistan fleeing the threat of honor killing from her own family. Jillian Stonecipher, Sarah Erickson-Muschko, and Shannon Han shared their experience during their pro bono case below:
What type of pro bono case did you take on and can you describe a bit of your client’s story?
We helped a seventeen-year-old girl from Afghanistan to obtain asylum. Our client fled Afghanistan because she was in danger of becoming a victim of an honor killing. Her male family members threatened to kill her because her husband—from an arranged marriage—accused her of violating Afghanistan’s strict moral norms for women.
Why did you decide to take on a pro bono immigration case?
Our firm has a relationship with CAIR Coalition, and our pro bono coordinator periodically circulates summaries of available cases. We were all new associates at the firm looking for ways to get involved, and our client’s story really moved us. Afghanistan was recently named the most dangerous country in the world for women—which is saying something, given the endemic gender-based violence around the world. This case gave us the opportunity to help one girl get another chance at life in a country where she has legal protections.
What was the most challenging part of your pro bono case?
It was challenging to learn about all of the things our client, and so many other people, are facing that we can’t fix—at least not immediately. Getting our client legal status is one big thing we could do for her, but she, her family, and all the women in Afghanistan need so much more help. As fulfilling as it has been to help our client get asylum, it was hard to hear about all the injustices that are out of our hands, including problems that our legal system has no power to correct.
What was the most exciting or fulfilling part of your experience?
Telling our client that she was granted asylum was one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. Knowing all that she has been through, it was amazing to hear her so happy. She finally got some justice and could stop living in fearfor her safety.
How did you find CAIR Coalition’s support during your case?
CAIR Coalition provided excellent support. They were the first people we called for advice at each new stage of the case, and they were always able to point us in the right direction.
What advice would you give to other attorneys considering taking on an immigration case for a pro bono client?
Do it! There are many people with legal needs that are not being met. Asylum cases give you a chance to use your legal skills to change people’s lives in very significant ways. Your help is especially important in these cases, because the people you represent have no political power to change the laws that affect them. And because the system can be very complex and burdensome, legal representation is essential. Further, immigration clients often don’t have the language skills to navigate the system for themselves. For example, if asylum applicants cannot provide their own interpreter, they cannot have an asylum interview and can be deported, regardless of their circumstances. If you take on a pro bono immigration case, you can help remove all the obstacles that could otherwise keep your client from getting the benefits to which he or she is entitled under the law.
What did you learn from your pro bono client?
Our client taught us just how resilient the human spirit can be. She amazed us with the strength she demonstrated as she told us about her experience time after time and always showed up when she needed to. Working with her also made us appreciate the opportunities we have here. We take our access to education and legal protection and our ability to make our own choices about our lives and relationships for granted. All women should be afforded these basic human rights. But many women in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, are not. Facing that reality in such a personal way has inspired us to value, preserve, and seek to expand those rights.