How Googlers helped Afghan newcomers seek asylum

Abdul has spent the past two hours filling out paperwork. “Today, I woke up at 7 a.m. because I was so excited,” he says. (He didn’t have to be here for six and half more hours.) “It’s been going really well. The process has been very organized, and everyone is very nice.”

We’re at a legal clinic, which was held at Google’s Pier 57 office in New York on September 20. Staffed by volunteers from Google and Accenture, the goal is to help Afghan newcomers like Abdul fill out Form I-589, a key document in the application for asylum in the United States.

The clinic is being hosted by the CEO Council for Welcome.US, an organization that supports people seeking refuge in the U.S. Earlier this year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet took on the roles of co-chairs, and they’ve stopped by to meet Afghan newcomers and thank the volunteers for their efforts.

Form I-589 is a dozen pages long and includes questions about whether an applicant has experienced threats or mistreatment and fears being harmed if they return to their home country.

So, at a table surrounded by people he’s only just met — including Sundar — 20-year-old Abdul shares his story. He speaks English well, but opts to have a translator present to ensure the details are communicated as accurately as possible.

Together, they explain that in 2021, Abdul, a student and dental assistant in Afghanistan, was approached by members of the Taliban who tried to force him to work for them. They knew he had relatives working for the U.S. government, which made him a target. They threatened to kill him if he didn’t do as they asked. Still, Abdul refused. He searched for safe haven outside of Afghanistan, and arrived in the U.S. when the country airlifted thousands of Afghans out in August last year. Since then, the Taliban has repeatedly interrogated Abdul’s parents about his whereabouts, which has forced his family to move to another district in Afghanistan.

“It was incredibly moving to hear his story,” says Ariel Devine, the Google attorney volunteer helping Abdul capture this information in his application. “Applying for asylum is an overwhelming process to navigate, and lending my legal skills is one way I can provide support. We’re part of welcoming these Afghan newcomers into our country, and showing Abdul there are people invested in his application was a tremendous honor and responsibility.”