When over 1,000 Afghan nationals found refuge in the state of Iowa after being evacuated from their homeland in 2021, they were provided temporary immigration status through Operation Allies Welcome. Now, as their temporary status is set to expire, many are racing against the clock to find assistance applying for and securing more permanent immigration status. Seeing this need, the Drake University Law School Refugee Clinic mobilized to provide these critical services.

In the summer of 2022, the Refugee Clinic, along with its community partners, hosted multiple informational and screening sessions for Afghans paroled into the United States after the fall of the Afghan government. From these initial efforts, it became clear that many Afghans were eligible to apply for asylum as a pathway to permanent immigration status. Asylum is a legal remedy available to individuals who fear persecution in their country of origin. The Refugee Clinic worked in partnership with Iowa Legal Aid and the Polk County Volunteer Lawyers project to recruit and train dozens of pro bono attorneys to engage in direct representation of asylum seekers.  To amplify the impact of pro bono efforts, the Refugee Clinic has also organized one day, pro se asylum clinics, in which volunteer attorneys and students are paired with Afghan asylum seekers to provide limited assistance with applications for asylum before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Drake Law third-year student Elizabeth Boyer has been instrumental in helping to get the pro se asylum clinics coordinated. “I joined the Refugee Clinic in Spring 2022 as a student attorney and worked with noncitizens from across the globe as they navigated life here in Iowa,” said Boyer. “That experience taught me a lot about the complex U.S. immigration system and the very human side of impersonal policies. When the Drake Refugee Clinic announced they were able to start helping Afghan nationals apply for asylum, I was eager to get on board.”

The first asylum clinic was offered in September. A second is planned for Friday, Oct. 21 as part of Drake Law School’s Mark S. Cady Day of Public Service programming. Volunteer attorneys from Dorsey & Whitney LLP and Wells Fargo in Des Moines are participating in the clinic, which their offices are co-sponsoring with support from the Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project.

The pro se asylum clinics are made possible in part through a grant from the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services. The grant established ALL Iowa, a collaborative partnership between Drake Law School, the University of Iowa College of Law’s Center for Human Rights, and Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice. ALL Iowa will aid in addressing the critical need for immigration legal services for Afghan nationals and provide services like Drake’s pro se asylum clinics and training and mentoring of pro bono attorneys. In addition to the clinics, Drake will take the lead in creating a virtual help desk that will provide limited general legal advice and referral services to unrepresented Afghans in Iowa. Find the press release for the partnership here.

Boyer says she is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to continue to help Afghan nationals on Cady Day. “The Drake Legal Clinic is excited to help even more Afghan nationals apply for asylum on Cady Day of Service. We are so grateful to the pro bono attorney community for their willingness to serve this population in need – we couldn’t do this without them. I am proud to do my part to help our Afghan allies apply for asylum in order to stay in the United States,” Boyer said.