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Cornell Law Students and Professors Assist Afghans at Risk

The National Lawyers Guild and the International Refugee Assistance Project chapters at Cornell Law School, along with two professors and over three dozen law students, are volunteering to help Afghans seeking humanitarian parole in the United States. The recent turmoil in Afghanistan caused by the withdrawal of American troops and the takeover of the Taliban has forced many individuals into hiding and fearing for their lives, especially if they helped the U.S. military, government contractors, or Western aid groups.

Cornell Law students volunteering to help Afghans seeking humanitarian parole in the United States.

Law student volunteers, Amy Godshall ’23 (far left), Jason Steuerwald ’23, Ethan Taveras ’23, and Matt Nelson ’23 (far right) preparing to mail the eleven cases they filed during the first week of October.

Humanitarian parole is a rarely used avenue in U.S. immigration law that allows individuals to come to the United States temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been closed, leaving Afghans with no option but to either leave Afghanistan and begin humanitarian procedures in another country or stay in Afghanistan and have a family member or friend in the United States sponsor them. Almost all of the individuals who are receiving legal assistance on their humanitarian parole applications at the Law School are currently in Afghanistan.

Cornell Law students Ethan Taveras ’23, Amy Godshall ’23, Jason Steuerwald ’23, and Victoria (Tori) Staley ’23 are spearheading the project, which involves fifty law students who are volunteering their time and efforts. Aside from gathering paperwork from the families and filing cases, all four law students are also working on training other law student volunteers. Professors Stephen Yale-Loehr, director of the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Clinic, and Beth Lyon, associate dean for experiential education and clinical program director, are volunteering their time to supervise the law students.

“Currently there are about seventy active humanitarian parole cases we’re working on. Jason and Amy just filed a case for eleven people,” said Staley.

Although the project is in its initial stages, the students are facing some challenges, including high application fees ($575 per applicant), gathering evidence from individuals in hiding or separated from their identification documents, compiling all the documentation required for the application, and uncertainty with how long the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will take to decide on the applications. All these challenges, particularly the last one, are currently leaving Afghan applicants “waiting, without knowing whether they should leave Afghanistan or not,” said Godshall.

Despite these challenges, most of the students have been able to speak directly with the Afghan clients and their sponsors. Some clients or sponsors speak English; in other cases, the students are using the translation feature in WhatsApp. “We hope to file another chunk of cases in the next few weeks,” said Staley.

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