In May, as the one-year deadline to file asylum applications approached for 50 members of the Afghan Female Tactical Platoon who entered the U.S. last August after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, most of the women weren’t making enough progress on their resettlement paperwork.
But this week, Paul Hastings reported that it had wrangled a group of large law firms together for an eleventh-hour pro bono effort to finish the applications of more than 50 women, including several who were Paul Hastings clients all along. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, McGuireWoods, and Vedder Price each took five to six clients, Paul Hastings ESG counsel Renata Parras said in an interview.
The combined effort of more than 100 lawyers at the law firms and several nonprofits meant that all but two of the women in the all-female special operations unit, which served alongside and supported U.S. special forces, will file their paperwork by the one-year deadline on Tuesday. The attorneys advised the two other women to wait for specific reasons, Parras said, adding that they should be protected by humanitarian parole status. For the rest, Parras said the risk of a denial drove the rapid pro bono effort after she realized that some of the attorneys advising the women had assumed that parole status was all but guaranteed.
“While they are all in-status for humanitarian parole, that is an exception to the rule. It’s discretionary, and a denial is not reviewable by the Board of Immigration Appeals,” Parras said. “Once I started working through that, we wanted to make sure they were being properly represented, which means filing these within one year to safeguard their rights.”
Parras also briefed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the impending group filing, something the agency prepared for by committing to processing the applications at an expedited rate. While some of the firm’s asylum clients have been waiting years for their applications to be processed, Parras said the USCIS has committed to conducting interviews with the women within 45 days of filing, with final adjudication coming in 150 days.
The group of law firms, dubbed the Afghan Legal Task Force, will begin meeting with the Afghan women and the U.S. soldiers who served alongside them next week to prepare the Afghans for their asylum interviews. Each interviewee will have a lawyer present to ensure the rights of the applicants and make sure they aren’t hurting their chances with a response that appears inconsistent with their asylum declaration, Parras said.
“So many Afghan nationals needed representation and we filled the gap,” she said. “Law firms that otherwise compete came together and pooled our resources toward this incredible, deserving population of women. I have not been a part of something like it since coming to private practice.”