A team of attorneys from Foley’s Washington, D.C., office has helped secure asylum for a 39-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who had long been persecuted by the Iranian government on account of her family’s political opinions, her religious beliefs, her Kurdish heritage and her status as a divorced woman.
The woman, who is not being identified to protect the safety of her parents, who still live in Iran, says as ethnic Kurds and moderate seculars, her family has continuously been targeted and persecuted by the majority Shia Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which deposed the Shah and installed the oppressive theocratic regime that is still in power today. She says two of her uncles were imprisoned, tortured, and executed for opposing the regime. A third uncle fled Iran for the mountains of northern Iraq, where he was killed in a chemical weapons attack on the local Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s army. And a fourth uncle has received asylum in Europe.
From the time she was a young girl, the woman says, her family has been subjected to periodic raids by the Iranian secret police, who would kick down the door in the middle of the night, smash windows, conduct room-to-room searches for her uncles, interrogate her parents, and beat and threaten to arrest and rape her mother if she did not cooperate. And she herself was barred from attending university, blacklisted from any sort of public employment, and publicly beaten for exposing her hair during a protest on behalf of single mothers and divorced women.
The woman says she fled Iran for Iraq in 2013, but encountered many of the same problems there she had experienced in her homeland. When she tried to return to Iran, she was detained at the border and interrogated for 36 hours before being turned back. After obtaining a tourist visa from the U.S. consulate in Iraq to visit family in the United States, she returned to Iran under cover of darkness and, with the help of a sympathetic border patrol agent, was able to board a flight to the United States.
Soon after her September 2014 arrival, the woman reached out to a Kurdish rights organization for help, which put her in touch with the team from Foley, who agreed to represent her pro bono. She applied for asylum here in March 2015, saying she feared being detained, tortured and raped if she were forced to return to Iran. “And once [the secret police] were done, they would kill me the same way they killed my uncles,” she wrote in a declaration.
The woman, whose application for asylum was granted in January, is now married to a U.S. citizen and living on the East Coast, where she is taking college-level courses and working toward becoming a dental hygienist, according to associate Kristen Maryn, who handled her case along with associate Sarah Howard and partner Christopher Swift. Maryn says the Foley team has “developed a special bond” with the woman, whom she describes as “one of the most big-hearted, generous and caring” individuals she has ever known.
Maryn, who specializes in representing asylum-seeking women facing gender-based persecution, says she finds the strength and poise such women possess to be incredibly inspiring. “It makes you want to do whatever you can to help them,” she says.
The woman expressed gratitude to the Foley team for their help and support, saying it is great to know there are still people out there who care about people they have never met. “I cannot even imagine where I would be without [them],” she said.
She also said that for the first time in her life she now feels safe and can “live life to the fullest.” “I am not afraid of expressing my beliefs and feelings anymore, and I can choose where to continue my education and work without fear of being abused,” she added.