Someone San Diego Should Know: Louisa Porter
Retired magistrate judge assisting a group of Afghan refugees in what could be a life-saving endeavor
When the U.S. left Afghanistan in August 2021 and the Taliban assumed control, many at-risk Afghans were left behind. Some went into hiding or fled the country while seeking asylum in the free world.
A group of San Diegans led by retired federal magistrate judge Louisa Porter is helping 79 Afghans who are hiding in Pakistan while seeking to emigrate to the U.S. as refugees. If their U.S. applications are not approved by November, Pakistan will return the Afghans to Afghanistan.
Among them are 19 women former judges and their relatives, including 32 children.
The judges face likely death if they are returned.
“Even before the Taliban retook power, two women judges of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court had been assassinated,” said David Levi, president of the American Law Institute.
“Women judges had long faced discrimination and threats from defendants in the courts and even from people with whom they worked. They were battling years of oppression in a culture that expected women to defer to men, to stay in the home and to stay out of the public eye. These women judges had defied these expectations and had dared to sit in judgment of men.”
Porter became involved when in August 2021 she saw reports of frantic Afghans trying to leave with the Americans. “It reminded me of Vietnam,” she said.
She contacted the International Association of Women Judges, who had already begun rescue efforts, and has worked with the group ever since. The association put Porter in contact with one former Afghan judge in hiding, which led to contact with the 79 refugees.
“The last two years this has been my life’s work to help get them out and resettled here,” Porter said.
At first, the 79 refugees stayed in Afghanistan safe houses hoping for private rescue flights out of the country. After the Taliban ended rescue flights, the refugees escaped overland to Pakistan, where they were given temporary visas while awaiting decisions on their U.S. applications. The temporary Pakistan visas expire in November.
Porter’s group plans to contact members of Congress for help in support of the pending U.S. applications.
In the meantime, Porter has created a nonprofit and raised funds to help the refugees with living expenses. They intend to mentor the refugee judges after they arrive and help integrate them into the legal community. University of San Diego Law School has offered several tuition-waived scholarships.
Porter, who lives in Bankers Hill, has been in regular communication with the refugees, giving them a glimmer of hope and support during their two years in hiding.
“They are not allowed to work in Pakistan and they have no access to health care or schooling,” she said. “They are depressed and some are suicidal.”
Porter’s deep commitment and motivation to succeed stems, in part, from her own roots.
Born in 1947 and raised in the Midwest, neither of her parents attended college. “Being a girl, my mom’s dad didn’t allow her to attend college,” Porter said.
“I became ardent. Whatever someone told me I couldn’t do because I’m a girl, I wanted to do.”
She was the first in her family to graduate college. She became a private detective and obtained a pilot’s license. And she graduated University of San Diego Law School in 1977 at a time when a small percentage of the class were women.
In the 1970s, she was one of the few female trial attorneys in San Diego, sometimes enduring offensive comments from some judges, attorneys and even a juror.
Nevertheless, Porter worked hard and earned a stellar reputation resulting in her appointment as federal magistrate judge in 1991, a position she held for 26 years.
She went on to become San Diego’s first female chief magistrate judge.
“These women Afghan judges worked so hard to become judges in a culture that told them they couldn’t do it because they are women,” Porter said. “I relate to that.”
“We cannot leave them and their families behind. They risked their lives to help the U.S. try to build a free country. Now we have to help them.”
About this series
Jan Goldsmith is an Emeritus member of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board. He is an attorney and former law partner, judge, state legislator, San Diego city attorney and Poway mayor.
Someone San Diego Should Know is a column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.
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