Call for help: Afghan asylum-seekers in Middle Tennessee need more attorneys, immigration lawyers

Attorneys who do not practice immigration law will be trained
Posted at 6:54 PM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 19:54:43-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For almost a year, Middle Tennessee stepped up to help those who fled Afghanistan.

The 600 asylum-seekers now need legal representation in order to stay, but attorneys aren't easy to find.

"Tennessee has had a significant increase in the population of immigrants, but not a corresponding increase in attorneys to provide representation," said Karla McKanders, an immigration lawyer and professor.

Karla McKanders leads the Immigration Practice Clinic at Vanderbilt Law School. She's partnering with Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors. The organization is trying to pair local lawyers with asylum-seekers.

"We've been reaching out to attorneys who may not specialize in immigration, but may be able to pitch in with training, and with a lot of help from us they can go ahead and represent a family," said Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea of Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors.

Unlike refugees, the more than 70,000 Afghans that evacuated to the United States have protections that are more temporary. Their benefits only last about a year. Many of the evacuees helped the U.S. during the war. Because they were potential targets of the Taliban, it was crucial to get them out. Not admitting them as refugees sped things up because that process takes longer and could have left them on the hook for months.

To extend their stay, advocates say it's so important they get attorneys before the end of August.

"We have several hundreds of families that have arrived to Nashville and are currently waiting to be paired with an attorney to help them file their applications with immigration," Manrique Barrenechea said.

If you are interested in helping, contact Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors. About 40 lawyers have already stepped up.