A group of pro bono attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, in conjunction with two legal organizations, has held a pilot clinic to assist Sacramento-based refugees who fled Afghanistan after the country fell to the Taliban in August.
The pilot clinic, which was held remotely on Feb. 12, offered nearly 100 Sacramento-based Afghan refugees, many of whom worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, with legal guidance on their asylum and adjustment of status applications. Attorneys also screened families on their eligibility for certain services.
Around 60 attorneys participated in the clinic. Kirkland worked alongside Lawyers for Good Government — a community of legal professionals pushing for equal rights under the law — and the International Refugee Assistance Project, which gathers law students and lawyers to develop and enforce legal and human rights for refugees and displaced individuals.
Lawyers for Good Government led the program structure while IRAP, along with Pars Equality Center and Centro Legal de la Raza, provided expertise on asylum and adjustment of status matters, cultural competency issues, and guidance on working with interpreters.
"Kirkland is grateful to be able to partner with IRAP and Lawyers for Good Government to provide legal advice to Afghan refugees seeking asylum and other immigration relief in the United States," the firm's global program director and pro bono counsel Jackie Haberfeld said in a statement. "We are proud of our attorneys' commitment to using their unique skills to help this vulnerable population."
Haberfeld further noted that many of the attorneys, who ranged from first-year associates to senior partners, plan to continue with the representation of their clinic clients until their immigration applications have been decided.
"IRAP is proud to work with our pro bono partners to provide the high-quality legal services evacuated Afghans need to restart their lives in the U.S. with safety and stability," said Wendy Fu, IRAP's director of pro bono. "In addition to facilitating asylum access, IRAP continues to advocate for a permanent pathway to citizenship for all evacuated Afghans and continued support for the many at-risk Afghans still in Afghanistan and other third countries."
Following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August, the Biden administration launched Operation Allies Welcome, which sought to resettle vulnerable Afghan refugees across the nation, the majority of which worked alongside U.S. agencies within the country.
It was announced on Feb. 19 that all remaining Afghan nationals who were temporarily relocated to U.S. military bases had been resettled in the U.S. Since the start of the operation, 84,600 Afghan nationals, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have moved to the U.S.
Still, of the estimated 81,000 Afghans with pending special immigrant visa applications, 78,000 remain in Afghanistan, according to advocacy group the Association of Wartime Allies in a quarterly report released on Tuesday. The survey found that 88% experienced job losses since the fall of Kabul and 70% reported going without food at least once in the last month.
"Families seeking safety have a right to apply for asylum, and we owe a special duty to those Afghan refugees who risked their lives to help Americans in Afghanistan," Traci Feit Love, the executive director of Lawyers for Good Government, said in a statement. "Lawyers are uniquely poised to help these families navigate the immigration process so they can find stability and pursue the next chapter of their lives. We're grateful to our partners on this project, and hope we can grow and scale this work in the coming months."
Over 600,000 people have been internally displaced within Afghanistan since January 2021, according to the UN Refugee Agency, with a total refugee population of more than 2.6 million.