Venable attorneys regularly donate their time to help immigrants improve their lives by obtaining legal status in the United States. In recent months they've worked on cases involving Russian artists seeking asylum, a Ukrainian family that may need to flee their war-torn country, and an Afghan fighter pilot hoping to bring family members to this country.
Partner David E. Fink, counsel Sarah E. Diamond, and associate Tatiana A. Nikolaeva are representing a Russian couple ("Kate" and "Eugene") who are prolific artists and musicians living in Los Angeles. In Russia, they both were frequently arrested and beaten by law enforcement and targeted by Neo Nazis for their political activism through art and music.
Kate is a well-known street artist and tattooer who has competed on the reality TV series Ink Master. She painted a mural in Venice Beach during the pandemic called Stay Safe, which the U.S. embassy in China subsequently recreated on the exterior walls of the embassy compound. Kate received a thank-you note from the U.S. government and has been granted EB-1 Extraordinary Ability status. But obstacles remain in the couple's path toward asylum.
Upon their arrival in the country, Eugene's asylum application was rejected on procedural grounds, and Kate's application was rejected on unspecified grounds. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) placed the couple in removal proceedings, as both had overstayed their visas. Fink and his team are helping to clear this legal hurdle, and several others, so the couple can gain asylum and begin their journey toward becoming U.S. citizens.
A Ukrainian Family
Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced since Russia invaded the country in February. Partner Bart Stupak is working with a team at Venable to help a large, blended Ukrainian family stay safe and together, wherever they end up.
A referral came through the international organization Kidsave: a husband and wife with one natural child together, a child by a previous marriage, and 10 adopted children needed help. The challenge for Stupak's team was to get all of the documentation in order (birth certificates, adoption papers, passports, etc.), should the family need to evacuate.
The couple needed documents showing they had the legal right to take the adopted children out of the country, and each family member needed not just a Ukrainian passport but a Zagran passport for travel abroad as well. Because they'd fled their home, they also needed a mailing address. All of the documents needed to be obtained from the local city council, which was now under Russian control. And because the documents were all in Russian, they would have to be translated for the legal team.
Stupak said Richard DiNucci, senior policy advisor in the International Trade Group, was instrumental in getting the team over the finish line, thanks to his vast experience with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The family has not left Ukraine yet, but Venable's team has made sure all of their documents are in order should they need to.
An Afghan Pilot
A few years ago "Sam" was flying missions for the Afghan Air Force, fighting the Taliban and rescuing wounded soldiers. Today, Sam is flying in the Pacific Northwest, fighting fires in California, Montana, and elsewhere.
But members of his family, who helped the Afghan government fight the Taliban, remain in hiding in Afghanistan, and a team of Venable attorneys (led by partner Laura A. Wytsma) is helping Sam to get them visas and passports so they can come to the United States safely and legally. The process is a long one. Sam first needs to be granted asylum himself, then wait a year to become a permanent resident. Five years later he can apply for citizenship. Only then can Sam apply for family members in Afghanistan to join him in the United States.
Wytsma became involved nearly a year ago after partner Elizabeth M. Manno met Sam. Manno's brother had provided Sam with temporary housing following his astonishing escape from Kabul with his wife and three young children. Manno knew Wytsma had handled dozens of asylum cases throughout her career and sought out her help with Sam's case.
Wytsma said pro bono work allowed her to make her first appellate argument as an associate, an experience she ultimately needed to represent future clients. She stressed that anyone can get involved with Venable's pro bono program, regardless of their role or skill set.