In April 2021, just a few weeks after Venable attorney Anthony Vitti became lead associate on a case involving an Afghan interpreter, President Biden announced it was “time to end the forever war.” The United States would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan within five months. Biden’s decision gave a new sense of urgency to Venable’s pro bono work on behalf of the interpreter.
“The client risked his life for our country and deserved the benefits promised to him for that sacrifice,” Vitti said. And now the clock was ticking.
Venable had first become involved with the case in 2018, shortly after Stephen Salsbury joined the firm as a first-year associate. Salsbury, now deputy city solicitor at the Baltimore City Law Department, had worked on the case while studying at the Georgetown University Law Center. When he joined Venable, Salsbury continued to assist on the case under the supervision of partner Warren Hamel.
In 2009, the U.S. government established a special visa program for Afghans whose lives were threatened because of their work on behalf of the U.S. in the war. Afghans who were granted the visas could resettle in the U.S. Venable’s client first petitioned for the special visa in 2011.
As insurgents seized territory throughout Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, targeting U.S. allies, the interpreter and his family sought avenues of escape. That August, Vitti, with assistance from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), helped his client relocate to another country, just before insurgents reached the area where the family was residing.
Once the client and his family members were safely relocated, Venable attorneys continued to assist with his visa application. The U.S. eventually granted the visa, but with just weeks to spare before its expiration date. Vitti’s client had very little time to coordinate travel plans and had no resources to cover the cost of the trip.
Venable, with the assistance of IRAP, explored funding options, and ultimately a resettlement agency provided travel arrangements for the client and his family. They arrived in the U.S. in April, reuniting with the interpreter’s sister and her family.
Vitti said this pro bono case was by far the most meaningful of his career so far, and it advanced his practice in several ways. It allowed him to take a more active role in representing his client, and it helped prepare him for future stressful situations involving clients.
“There are few cases where the stakes are literally life and death,” he said. “As a result of my experience in this case, I am better equipped to handle high-stakes litigation matters of all kinds."