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Characters Unite Award Winners

Malika Levarlet


Malika Levarlet is a Washington, D.C.-based corporate attorney who uses her legal skills to represent asylum seekers to the U.S. Her work enables those who are fleeing persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality or political opinion to find a safe new home.

A corporate attorney with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Malika was the first associate in the Washington, D.C. office to take on a political asylum case through the organization Human Rights First. Malika represented Ms. N, a French-speaking Cameroon native and successful civil aviation technician who was detained and tortured by government authorities in 2008 after she began working with a human rights organization. The torture left her with scars all over her body. Undeterred, Ms. N then worked as a monitor at a polling station for a local election. As a result, her home was burned down and she was forced into hiding, where she remained for several months before fleeing to the United States.

As a native French speaker, Malika was able to communicate with the applicant and help Ms. N receive both asylum and a green card. As is so often the case in political asylum cases, Malika provided important emotional support and guidance to Ms. N as she recovered from her ordeal. Today, Ms. N is doing well, living and working in the Washington, DC area and has been able to reunite with her family in the United States.

In 2012, Malika helped two other refugee clients receive asylum: Ms. R, also from Cameroon, who was beaten by the police because of her tangential involvement with an opposition group, and Mr. B, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was tortured because authorities wrongly believed he was part of rebel forces. Due to Malika’s legal help, both are now working on building new lives in the United States, safe from persecution.

In addition to representing refugees in immigration proceedings, Malika serves as an advocate at her law firm, persuading fellow attorneys to take on the cases of asylum seekers. She was the recipient of the firm's 2011 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award. Malika preaches the importance of pro bono service generally and describes the essential and rewarding work of helping this vulnerable and marginalized population, who face both restrictive laws and cultural prejudice. Malika said, “Pro bono is one of the finest traditions of our profession. My work through Human Rights First has offered an excellent opportunity to serve the community, while achieving personal fulfillment."