Aid to Afghan women judges attracts US law firms

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Taliban soldiers stand in front of a sign at Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, September 9, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS / File Photo

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  • At least four major U.S. companies represent pro bono asylum and immigration judges
  • About 250 female judges have fled or are trying to leave Afghanistan

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(Reuters) – Maryam Helal knew she and her family were not safe in their Kabul home after the Afghan government collapsed in August and the Taliban took control of the country.

For a decade as a judge reviewing family and criminal law cases, she sent Taliban operatives to jail for drug trafficking, arms smuggling and other crimes. The Taliban freed the men when they returned to power, and Helal spent a month hiding with a friend for fear he would take revenge.

“I am threatened by the Taliban,” Helal wrote in an email to Reuters this month from Athens, Greece, where she has been since October. “The majority of them saw my face in court.

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Helal is among 250 women judges who have fled or are attempting to flee the country, according to the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ). A race to gain them temporary legal status in the United States and other countries has mobilized dozens of attorneys from some of the largest American law firms, as well as lawyers from small firms, lawyers specializing in l immigration and other organizations.

Since August, the IAWJ has been coordinating with volunteer lawyers at DLA Piper, who have referred individual judge cases to Vinson & Elkins, Debevoise & Plimpton and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson to quickly file documents relating to the asylum and immigration.

“They are really in imminent danger,” said Anne Geraghty Helms, US pro bono director of DLA Piper. “We have heard of judges who have been separated from their families, who have received death threats, who are targeted simply because they are women.”

So far, 150 judges and their families have left Afghanistan and are in a legal limbo elsewhere, while 95 are actively trying to leave, said Patricia Whalen, IAWJ member and retired magistrate from the tribunal of the family from Vermont who helped coordinate the effort. . The biggest groups are in Greece and the United Arab Emirates, she said.

As of mid-December, only four of the judges had visited the United States, Whalen said.

Under the former Taliban regime, Afghan women were prohibited from becoming lawyers or taking legal training. International groups trained and supported women in the legal profession during the U.S. occupation, but women have been unable to work in many areas since the Taliban took power, Whalen said.

Some who hope to come to the United States have applied for humanitarian parole – a program through the United States Customs and Immigration Service that would grant temporary permission to enter the United States while working to obtain permanent status.

But lawyers filing humanitarian parole applications said the government had been slow to process them. USCIS said in a statement that it has conditionally approved humanitarian parole for more than 135 Afghan nationals who have been outside the United States since July, but did not specify the number of requests received from Afghan judges or globally.

The agency said it was working to speed up the processing of requests and add staff to “help cope with the increase in requests.”

Duncan Pickard, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, said he and his colleagues were working with the US State Department to try to bring two female judges he represents to the United States. One is Anissa Rasooli, who was evacuated with 10 family members by the Polish military in the days following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Pickard said.

They were granted temporary asylum in Poland, where they are receiving housing and financial assistance from the government, he said. Rasooli hopes to come to the United States, where she has family and professional ties, before these benefits run out.

Vinson & Elkins has a team of nearly 30 lawyers representing 10 female judges and their families. Among them is Maryam Helal, who said her family’s situation in Greece was precarious.

“We don’t have food, clothes and a decent place. We don’t have access to medical services, ”Helal said in his email to Reuters.

Simon Willis, an environmental law partner at Vinson & Elkins, filed for humanitarian parole in the United States on Helal’s behalf, but as of December 17, no decision had been made. Helal’s family may have to move to a refugee camp when his 60-day Greek visa expires, he said.

“We can fill out these forms and try to get help from the government, but at the end of the day it’s pretty limited in terms of what’s going on in the lives of these people,” Willis said. “They are trying to stay alive.

Read more:

Afghans seeking entry into US face backlog, legal aid groups say

“RBG of Afghanistan” and other women judges honored in the face of Taliban threat

Hunted by the men they imprisoned, Afghan women judges seek to escape

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