Editors note: Naveed and his family have evacuated from Afghanistan safely and are now residing in sanctuary cities. Our client consented to sharing his name and story in hopes of demonstrating the true impact of pro bono services and to encourage others to get involved.
This month, our Immigration team achieved an incredible victory through our work with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of CNY (VLP), securing asylum for a man who fled Afghanistan after suffering severe violence and persecution by the Taliban. He was only the third person in Onondaga County to have their application approved this year.
Naveed was connected to Bousquet Holstein attorney Rebecca Cohen through the pro bono immigration clinic at the VLP. Rebecca and her team were extremely moved by Naveed’s story and understood the incredible stakes – for if Naveed was forced to return home, he would likely be killed.
“The jeopardy that Naveed faced was life threatening, and Rebecca’s extraordinary pro bono service exemplifies the best of our firm’s dedication to the provision of free legal services to those in need,” said Laurence Bousquet, a founding attorney of Bousquet Holstein PLLC. “We are happy to support the work of VLPCNY, and honor Rebecca’s commitment to the immigration clinic.”
Being of a minority ethnic group and religion, Naveed and his family fled Afghanistan once before to escape persecution from the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group known for their strict interpretation of Islamic law. After the United States overcame the Taliban regime in 2001, they returned to Afghanistan.
After returning home, Naveed’s involvement and support for U.S. affiliated pro-democracy organizations, once again made him a target of the Taliban. He escaped an attack while attending the American University of Afghanistan in 2016, during which 13 people died and more than 30 were injured. Additionally, he and his family continued to receive constant death threats.
The violence escalated in early 2021, when Naveed was brutally assaulted by a group of Taliban members. He was stabbed multiple times and hospitalized for his injuries. Shortly after, the Taliban reassumed power of Afghanistan, an act that would plunge the country into further poverty and force its citizens into a humanitarian crisis.
“What happened to my country in 2021 was very tragic,” Naveed said. “I was one of the people who was trying to bring change to my community. But that eventually put me in a position where I needed to flee the country.”
After several attempts to seek refuge in Pakistan, Naveed was connected to the Embassy of Qatar in Afghanistan where he was shuttled to Qatar and evacuated by the United States military. Naveed was brought to Syracuse, New York, but found himself with no permanent place to live and no way to support himself or his family, who were seeking asylum in Pakistan at the time.
“It was a very dark time in my life,” Naveed remembers. “I had no job and I needed to make sure my family was taken care of. When I was notified that I needed to apply for asylum, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t even know what ‘asylum’ meant.”
It was at this point where Naveed was connected to VLP, which was holding a legal screening clinic downtown. With no car, Naveed walked over an hour with the hope of sharing his story and getting assigned a pro bono attorney.
“I met Naveed at a legal clinic after nearly 1000 Afghans arrived in Syracuse after the Taliban took over in 2021,” said Sara McDowell, the Deputy Executive Director for Immigration Programs at VLP. “After hearing his story, I said to myself, ‘I am going to make sure he finds a good attorney,’ and I knew Rebecca was right for the job.”
Rebecca, who focuses her practice on immigration work at Bousquet Holstein PLLC, frequently partners with VLP to provide pro bono legal services through their immigration clinic. For Naveed’s case, Rebecca was paired with VLP volunteer Paola Suarez, an L.L.M. international student from Mexico City studying at the Syracuse University College of Law.
Together, their team dedicated over 100 pro bono hours to Naveed’s case, supported by VLP’s abundant resources, including practice interview sessions so that Naveed would feel prepared for the entire process.
“I was given the assurance that things would be taken care of,” Naveed remembers. “I’ll never forget the dignity and respect they showed me throughout the entirety of the process.”
In early October 2023, Naveed and his team received notice that he’d been granted asylum by the United States, only the third in Onondaga County to do so this year. They were overjoyed.
“I was given a new life when I came to the United States,” Naveed said.
“This victory is a testament to the power of perseverance, compassion and unwavering commitment of the legal community to uphold justice,” Rebecca said. “Naveed’s story is filled with loss, pain, and violence, but now we can celebrate the new life he has ahead of him.”
To celebrate this remarkable moment, VLP invited Naveed, Rebecca, and Paola to join them and speak at a Pro Bono Reception at the Syracuse University College of Law. The reception, following a pro bono fair, was meant to encourage law students to get involved in pro bono clinics around Syracuse.
Naveed shared his story with the law students, expressing complete gratitude to VLP and his legal team. “VLP’s work impacts a lot of people, both directly and indirectly,” he expressed. “So, I request everybody here to get involved. I know I will try to learn from this and contribute to similar missions in my community here.”
“Naveed has an amazing, touching story, ” Paola told her peers. “It was honestly an honor to work on his case with an experienced attorney like Rebecca. As international students, we can understand the impact of this work ourselves.”
“Naveed’s story is a representation of the truly incredible outcomes that come out of VLP and pro bono services in general,” Rebecca said. “I know, without a doubt, that he will make an impact on so many people here in the U.S. through his work and commitment to making the world a better place.”
If you are in need of pro bono legal services or would like to volunteer, please connect with VLP at www.vlpcny.org.