In honor of Pro Bono Week, ACKC’s Afghan Legal Services Project would like to highlight William Hanna, an attorney and Partner at Stinson, for his pro bono work with one of our Afghan families.
When Afghan evacuees began arriving in Kansas City in November 2021, most of them stayed in a hotel near the airport until they could find permanent housing. This “Afghan Hotel” was a community effort that relied on the support of organizations and volunteers willing to help in any way they could. It was at this “Afghan Hotel” that William Hanna, an attorney and Partner at Stinson LLP, was first introduced to the Afghan Legal Services Project by others who were working with Afghan families in Kansas City. Fortunately, William was eager to find a way to support our Afghan neighbors through pro bono legal representation, even though immigration was not an area of law he practiced in.
“My ‘real job’ is a litigator/trial attorney for a firm here in town,” William said. “I'm not an immigration attorney, and had done absolutely no immigration work until a few years ago when I represented a Syrian family who came to this country as refugees. I handled their green card applications, and their citizenship applications. So, my background in immigration law is extremely limited. I took a couple CLEs, did some reading on my own, asked for help from others who know more than I do, and learned what I needed to know without too much effort at all.”
The Afghan Legal Services Project matches attorneys with Afghan families to help them navigate the immigration system and apply for relief. Missouri welcomed 1,750 Afghan evacuees into the community. Primarily, these individuals were given parole status that allowed them to remain in the United States for 2 years. Parole status provides no assurance that they can remain in the United States after their parole expires. As a result, Afghan parolees are a vulnerable group, arriving in a new country with no guarantee they will be allowed to stay and faced with an overwhelming immigration process. The Afghan Legal Services Project has worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between these parolees and life-saving legal services by providing non-immigration attorneys the opportunity to learn about asylum law while providing pro bono representation.
“The Afghan Legal Services assigned a full-time immigration attorney to mentor me through the asylum process for my Afghan clients,” William said. “Also, Leslie Tabb and Clare Murphy Shaw, who are on staff with the Afghan Legal Services, are both responsive and knowledgeable. I've had tremendous support.”
Once attorneys are matched with their clients, they work with them to complete their asylum filing. This includes drafting the client’s declaration in support of their application, filling out the required forms, and completing country conditions research. Attorneys meet with their clients directly and have the opportunity to learn about their lives in Afghanistan and the changes they have experienced since coming to the United States. William recalls the relationships with the clients as the most rewarding part of the experience.
“It's the relationships with the clients,” William said. “The vast, vast majority of the Afghans who recently arrived in this country were able to make it out of Afghanistan because they were serving our country ‘over there.’ It's the least we can do to help them now that they are ‘over here.’ Life as a refugee/asylum seeker isn't easy. It's messy, and it's hard. So to really know the people whom you serve, to help them integrate and assimilate into American life…there's nothing like it.”
After completing the filing with USCIS, applicants must attend an asylum interview with a USCIS officer to determine whether they are eligible for relief. Attorneys in the program accompany their clients to their interviews to provide support and guidance. If successful, the Afghan clients receive asylum status and become eligible to apply for a social security card, work authorization, health insurance, and other much-needed benefits. The work that the attorneys in the Afghan Legal Services Project do has a direct and profound impact on the lives of our Afghan neighbors.
“Working with the refugee/immigrant community has been the most rewarding thing I've done in my legal career,” William said. “Opportunities to make life-changing impacts on the lives of others don't come along every day. But they do when you handle someone's asylum application, their green card application, their citizenship application. It's wonderful for them…and for you.”
Through William’s work and the work of attorneys like him, the Afghan Legal Services Project is able to continue providing excellent pro bono legal representation to our Afghan neighbors. If you are an attorney who is interested in the project, please visit the Afghan Legal Services Project website to learn more about how you can get involved. The Project has many kinds of limited representation opportunities as well, ranging from volunteering at our Pro Se Clinic days to individual representation at asylum interviews.
“You'll never have a more grateful, appreciative client, or a better opportunity to change someone's life for the better,” William said.
Interested attorneys should visit www.asylumclinickc.org/alsp to learn more or sign up. If you are not an attorney but would like to support the project, consider donating to our organization or spreading the word about the project. There is a donate link on our website.