MoFo has a long-standing commitment to pro bono work on behalf of underserved communities, including providing free legal services to immigrants and refugees. Following the U.S. military’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer, individuals across MoFo began asking what they could do. The firm responded by creating a partnership with Human Rights First to assist with screenings of Afghan refugees to determine their eligibility for immigration relief in the United States. Since its beginnings in the fall of 2021, the initiative has gained the support of more than 150 MoFo volunteers—partners, associates, and staff—making it one of the largest pro bono undertakings in MoFo’s history.
The Taliban’s swift resumption of power following the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies left many Afghans frantically attempting to evacuate the country due to fear for their safety under Taliban rule. That was especially the case for many individuals who worked and supported the U.S. military during its time in Afghanistan. The U.S. and other governments helped tens of thousands flee, with over 80,000 refugees arriving in the United States alone. Prior to this influx, the U.S. immigration system was already strained, and the arrival of tens of thousands of individuals who needed legal assistance created an additional weight on the shoulders of nonprofit immigration organizations.
Compelled by stories of those fleeing Afghanistan, MoFo’s Veterans Affinity Group invited representatives of several organizations to speak to the firm about the needs of Afghan refugees. The director of refugee representation from Human Rights First (HRF) was one of the panelists. She explained how the group had helped launch Project Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) to address the needs of Afghan refugees requiring immigration help. The firm has partnered with HRF on many asylum cases, so the pro bono team followed up to see how we could support this new effort. HRF explained that its most immediate need was assistance in conducting initial interviews with Afghans seeking its help—more than 4,000 to date since the summer 2021 evacuation.
There has been a huge outpouring of support for this screening project at the firm. Over 150 attorneys and staff have participated, with some completing multiple screening interviews. Attorneys from nearly all of the firm’s U.S. offices and practice groups have pitched in, ranging from new associates to senior partners. And three of the firm’s corporate clients also have joined in the effort.
HRF uses the information gained in screenings to place clients with pro bono attorneys. Morrison Foerster is currently representing some of these clients in seeking asylum and hopes to continue to support this effort through additional full-scope cases as well as clinics that HRF is launching to address the huge demand for services.
According to Pro Bono Counsel Dorothy Fernandez, who has led this mobilization of the firm’s people and resources, “The project has provided an outlet for our attorneys and staff who felt compelled to try to find a way to help, after seeing the tragic events unfold in Afghanistan last summer.” HRF has described MoFo’s assistance as a real “life saver.”
MoFo’s work with HRF embodies the values that define our firm, not only our commitment to service, but also the value we place on coming together, across offices and practice groups, to “succeed as one.” This collaboration is a powerful example of how, by working together, we can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.