In the lead up to and following the recent takeover of Afghanistan’s government by the Taliban, lawyers across the firm have volunteered their time and pro bono counsel to helping endangered Afghan civilians—including those who served alongside allied forces as interpreters—and their families leave the country and apply for legal status in the United States.
Partner Shannon Donnelly, associate Eugene Hwangbo, a retired US Army officer, and associate Daniel Kadish are among the many Morgan Lewis lawyers who have offered urgent assistance to Afghans and the nonprofit organizations working to support them at this critical juncture. Here they discuss what motivated them to get involved in the relief efforts, what they learned, and the importance of expressing gratitude for the service of others.
Since September, Shannon and a cross-office Morgan Lewis team have been working to secure humanitarian parole, a means to bring to the United States an individual who would otherwise be inadmissible for entry, for nearly 30 Afghan citizens. The project includes coordinating with US-based sponsors to collect required documentation and complete detailed applications.
I have now worked with two different families, one who had made it out of Afghanistan and is waiting in Pakistan, and another that is still in hiding in Kabul. Both families were trying to move large family units to safety and were fearful for their lives.
What has touched me the most is the partnership and gratitude expressed by the nonprofit organizations we coordinate with on this important work and the families, and the sense that I am truly influencing their safety and direction. I have also been so lucky to work with some amazing Morgan Lewis team members, who have been just as committed to this cause.
Eugene, who worked with multiple interpreters while serving in Afghanistan prior to his legal career, and his Morgan Lewis colleagues assisted two Afghans interpreters trapped in Afghanistan with their families with applying for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), which are intended for Afghan nationals at risk due to their work in support of the US mission or military. The interpreters had previously applied for and were initially approved for SIVs but, years into the process, were suddenly and arbitrarily denied without further appeal or any other recourse. Eugene’s team assisted in the interpreters’ and their families’ evacuations via military aircraft before US and allied forces departed the country. They are currently living in the United States and Europe as their visas continue through the approvals process.
I think anyone who has served with interpreters in Afghanistan learned to appreciate their courage and importance—not only in braving risks to work alongside us but also, as among the brightest of their youth, toward improving the future of their own people.
I encourage those interested in helping Afghans with their SIV applications to begin with understanding where their clients are in the approval process. Otherwise, in preparation for taking on clients, there are resources available online, at the firm, and among our attorneys who have already volunteered to learn about the SIV approval process generally.
As primary employment counsel for a nonprofit that provides education on and advocacy against the practice of forced marriage of girls to men, Dan drafted a contractor agreement for an employee of the organization whose help was needed to coordinate the last-minute evacuation of a group of 45 Afghan women threatened by the Taliban—including a female member of Afghanistan’s National Assembly and the gender officer at the Independent Election Commission. Many of the women are now in the United States.
One of the most wonderful things about being a Morgan Lewis lawyer is the opportunities we have to work on issues that have huge significance as they develop and evolve in real time. While the news cycle focused on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and speculated about the potential impact it might have, our client, the nonprofit, was working on the ground with individuals whose livelihoods and lives were threatened. Personally, and in part given my work with this client, I wanted to do my part to support the organization as it does such phenomenal work on behalf these young girls and women who are unable to advocate for themselves.