Chapman in Action Spotlight: Q&A with Sara Ghadiri

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July 2020

Sara Ghadiri is a passionate advocate for people who cannot use their voice in the American legal system. The daughter of an immigrant father, she grew up traveling back and forth between two continents, two cultures, and several languages. Navigating these cultural differences gave her a deep appreciation for justice because she saw first-hand how culture, language, and tradition shape the rule of law differently in different places—and how these systems can leave some people behind. 

Sara sees her legal expertise as a kind of language fluency, and she does pro bono work to help people who don’t speak “legalese” access the justice system that requires it. The skills she acquired going between different cultures as a child motivated her to apply the same methods in her approach to the law: she is a translator, a storyteller, and a voice for people who cannot speak for themselves.

Sara Ghadiri, Pro Bono Counsel

Sara Ghadiri, Chapman's Pro Bono Counsel

In addition to her litigation and regulatory practice, Sara serves as Chapman’s Pro Bono Counsel. We asked her to tell us more about some of her recent pro bono work and why it is so important.

What motivated you to take on the role of Pro Bono Counsel at Chapman?

As a summer associate at Chapman, I had the opportunity to work on pro bono cases; in fact, I remember the first one I helped with, which was for a man from Cote d’Ivoire who was seeking asylum based on political persecution. After that experience, I was hooked. I worked in the legal clinic at my law school, and from then on, I was committed to making pro bono a major part of my practice as an attorney. As I got more senior at the firm, I started taking more cases, and ended up co-writing a law that I learned needed to be changed through my pro bono work. The firm noticed all of the good that I was doing and needed a leader in this space, and I was very happy to step in.

Why focus on asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees?

I come from a family of immigrants. While the story of immigrants is certainly not universal, it is a community that understands that we have to help each other. When my dad arrived in 1977, he spoke almost no English. He depended on the kindness of both friends and strangers to help him figure out his new country. I am a big believer in paying kindness forward, understanding that had others not helped us to where we are, we would not be here. I feel like I can relate particularly well to asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees because I know some of the challenges they face, and I am delighted that I get to be the helper for them, just like someone else was the helper for my dad. 

What changes is the federal government proposing to the asylum process, and why does that matter?

These changes are sweeping and deeply concerning: the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is over 160 pages long and proposes to overhaul many well-settled definitions contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that federal circuit courts have been using for decades. Going through all of the proposed changes would take dozens of pages, but broadly, the changes affect who qualifies, what proof that person has to or can present, when grounds for asylum must be claimed, and what cases get a hearing. These changes matter because they make asylum much more difficult to win and force people to stay in dangerous situations simply for being who they are or holding the opinions they do.

What is Chapman’s role in representing Sanctuaries for Families?

Chapman is assisting Sanctuary for Families in drafting a public comment as part of the DOJ and DHS’s Notice and Comment Rulemaking procedure. When agencies want to make new rules, they generally publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register. Then, the agency announces a comment period, during which interested parties can submit written comments supporting or opposing the proposed regulations. This is one of those comments. We worked with Sanctuary for Families, with help from organizations like CLINIC, NIJC, and the Tahirih Justice Center, to develop legal arguments and help draft the Comment.

What do you hope the public comment will achieve?

I hope that it helps illustrate, through Sanctuary for Families’ client stories and through the legal arguments we have made, that these changes depart from well-settled law and do not take the realities that asylum seekers face into account. By engaging with stakeholders and understanding just how these Proposed Rules will affect asylum seekers, the DOJ and DHS will hopefully be able to withdraw these and craft better regulations that will help those fleeing violence and persecution to find safety in the US. 

Sanctuary for Families submitted the Public Comment on July 15, 2020. 

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