When a child seeks safety alone, KIND lawyers ensure protection

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“When I found out I got my asylum the first person I wanted to tell was my mom,” Farhad shares with a big smile. 

Farhad’s journey to the United States started in Kabul in August 2021 — he was 14 years old and the government had collapsed in Afghanistan. As chaos unfolded in the capital, Farhad and his family attempted numerous times to make it to the airport to board a flight out of the country. The Taliban threatened to shoot them if they tried to leave. Despite the risk, and after days of attempting to make it through the airport gates, Farhad and two of his siblings were allowed through.

They were separated from the rest of their family but were able to board a flight out of Afghanistan. 

For the next few months, Farhad and his siblings lived in a U.S. military camp in Qatar, then in a shelter in Michigan run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, before ultimately landing at a shelter in Atlanta, Georgia. Although still separated from his family, Farhad found stability at the shelter and it was there that he met Cruz Espitia, an immigration attorney with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

KIND’s work ensures that no child appears in immigration court without high-quality pro bono legal representation. KIND has offices around the country and opened its Atlanta office in 2015. Christina Iturralde Thomas, managing attorney in the Atlanta office, explains that the need for legal representation for unaccompanied minors in Georgia is immense.

“By 2015 [when our office opened], there were thousands of unaccompanied children arriving in Georgia,” says Christina. “There were so many children arriving and not enough attorneys to help. When we opened the doors at KIND it was seen as this hope, this amazing opportunity to try to meet the need.”

To help provide representation to as many children as possible, KIND relies on pro bono attorneys to help meet the growing need. According to Christina, the Atlanta legal community welcomed KIND’s work from day one. 

“[The Atlanta legal community] opened their doors to KIND to do training with their teams. Attorneys can attend our training with no obligation to take a case. But so many that attend a training will take on a case.”

KIND takes a holistic approach to providing support for its clients. In addition to legal representation, KIND helps connect clients with psychosocial care, education resources and housing. 

“It takes a village to meet the needs of our clients and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last eight years,” says Christina.

(From left to right: Cruz, Farhad and Christina)

By 2022, when Farhad arrived in Georgia, KIND’s Atlanta office had grown from its humble beginning of a team of three to a staff of nearly 30, including Cruz Espitia.

“As a first-generation Mexican-American, I’ve always been drawn to immigration issues,” explains Cruz. “I was drawn to KIND’s work so I could do something to help my community.”

In May 2022, Cruz met Farhad after a ‘Know your rights’ presentation at the shelter. Farhad was one of his first clients as an attorney for KIND. They quickly formed a tight bond.

“During the asylum application process, I tried to make it a regular practice to meet with Farhad once a week, just to listen and let him know someone cares about his story,” says Cruz.

With Cruz, Farhad worked on his asylum application and prepared for his interview before the asylum officer. “I was nervous that I wouldn’t get asylum, but Cruz told me there were other steps we could take if it was denied,” Farhad shares. 

After six months of waiting, Farhad finally received the decision — he was granted asylum to stay in the U.S.

“It was a huge feeling of relief,” says Cruz about winning Farhad’s asylum case. “It’s been a long journey, a lot of long hours, difficult stories, but this is why we do the work.”

For Farhad, asylum was another step on the journey to making Georgia feel more like home —  while preparing for his asylum application Farhad was reunited with his family.

“I reunited with my family in December 2022 and it was the best day of my life,” beams Farhad.

The family now lives together in Clarkston, Georgia and Farhad and his siblings are all back in school.

“Georgia feels like home, I feel comfortable, I am happy here and have lots of friends,” Farhad shares. 

Farhad is thriving in his new life in Clarkston — he’s on the high school basketball team and has a part-time job at a local restaurant to help with the household finances. 

“Right now I’m focusing on my math and science classes. I want to graduate from high school and go to college to study Information Technology. I’m watching videos about IT on YouTube. Right now my mind is like a sponge.”

About KIND:

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is the preeminent international nongovernmental organization devoted to the protection of unaccompanied and separated children. KIND envisions a world in which every unaccompanied child on the move has access to legal representation and has their rights and well-being protected as they migrate alone in search of safety. 

USA for UNHCR is a proud supporter of KIND. Funding from USA for UNHCR has helped KIND expand its services to minors in need of legal protection as well build its capacity to provide social services, including trauma-informed care and therapies. 

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