Shirin Zamani has been a staff attorney with Hogan Lovells for more than 8 years and was promoted to Staff Attorney Manager in 2022. She has been a longtime advocate of non-partner track attorneys receiving billable credit for pro bono work. As one of the firm’s Pro Bono Champions, she shares weekly opportunities with her colleagues to get them plugged into pro bono matters that interest them, from disability rights to domestic violence and everything in between.
Following the fall of Kabul and the effective collapse of the Afghan Government in August 2021, Hogan Lovells quickly mobilized in response to the burgeoning humanitarian crisis. Shirin is one of more than 270 U.S. colleagues who volunteered to assist Afghans seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Visas, and other forms of humanitarian relief. But she is one of only a handful who is fluent in Farsi.
As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, Shirin has seen first-hand the challenges facing foreign nationals in the U.S. She has witnessed friends and family arriving in the United States and trying to acclimate to a new place, a new culture, and new rules. After passing the citizenship exam herself, Shirin assisted many in her community in studying for the exam to ensure their success.
Currently, Shirin is assisting three Afghan families in the DMV area who are seeking asylum. All three are Shi’a Hazara, an ethnic minority group that has faced a long history of discrimination and violence. The clients are all in different stages of the process: One husband and wife made it across the U.S.-Mexico border on their own in May and were put into expedited removal proceedings.
Another family of nine has been interviewed by USCIS and is anxiously awaiting a decision. A third young couple has been granted asylum and will become eligible for their green cards in February 2024. Shirin says that one of the most exciting events of 2023 was being able to call Mohammad* and Maryam* and give them the great news. “I’m not sure who was more excited, me or the family!” Shirin says.
One morning in late summer 2021, Mohammad and Maryam awoke to gunshots in the streets of their town. They had heard rumors that the Taliban were coming, and they knew, as Hazaras, that they would be targeted and likely killed. So the teenage husband and wife quickly grabbed a few loaves of dry bread and some blankets for their week-old baby and fled into the mountains of Bamiyan.
More than a dozen other families had escaped into the caves like Mohammad and Maryam, but the terrain was rocky, food was scarce, and there was snow on the ground. Some of the younger children didn’t survive those conditions. Without food, Maryam couldn’t produce milk for her newborn, and she feared that he would die as well. Eventually, the couple decided to trek across the mountains to Maryam’s family home, about 8 hours away, in hopes that they could protect their child.
Mohammad’s family had connections with the U.S. Air Force, and by October 2021, the military had organized their evacuation from Afghanistan. When they arrived in the U.S., the family sought help with their asylum applications, and Shirin and her colleagues stepped in. Before meeting with the families the first time, Shirin visited a local Persian bakery to pick up traditional sweets and tea, hoping that it would bring the family something familiar in a very unfamiliar place. During that meeting and the ones that followed, Shirin helped guide the attorney team on cultural differences and norms to help the team gain trust and confidence in their attorneys.
When the family was lacking a computer for the children to use for schoolwork, Shirin and the team collected funds and presented Mohammad with a brand new laptop. Throughout the past year, Shirin has called on her personal network to assist the family with school supplies and monetary donations for rent and food, as well as regular diaper deliveries.
By the time Hogan Lovells secured asylum for Mohammad and Maryam, they had welcomed a second baby into their family. Maryam is attending high school and will graduate in two years. Mohammad has become fluent in English and hopes to study to become a doctor and give back to the community. Being authorized to work now, incident to his asylee status, allows him to assist in providing for his family.
Shirin encourages everyone to get involved in pro bono work in some form “It’s an awesome responsibility to serve as the translator for a family who looks to you for guidance and assistance, but it’s also a great honor. The feeling of being able to deliver good news to someone who looks to you for guidance is unmatched.”
* Client names have been changed to protect the clients’ privacy.