Monica Modi Khant’s father was eighteen years old when he came to America from India. Alone and penniless, he managed to earn an advanced degree and achieve a career as a civil engineer. “I always knew the struggles he faced starting a new life for himself, and he never let me forget what a privilege it was to come to the United States,” the forty-three-year-old attorney says.
Now she helps others facing even greater challenges. As the executive director of Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), Khant leads a network of lawyers to aid victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, labor exploitation, and oppressive governments.
“This is my life’s mission, to work for people who would not have a voice,” she says. “My upbringing prepared me because I understand the challenges people face when coming to the United States.”
Khant, a mother of three, is hardly alone in her passion. The Atlanta Bar Association and local charities started her organization in 2005 because few immigrants were successfully gaining asylum here. Now the group has the support of major area corporations including Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and AT&T, all of which provide attorneys to take on cases without charge.
Over the past decade, the organization has aided more than 1,000 people who Khant describes as belonging to “the most vulnerable population of immigrants.” Some have made headlines, such as the young girls who were lured from rural Mexico to Norcross in 2010 with promises of marriage but were trapped in a prostitution ring. In other instances, the immigrant victims didn’t become news, but their experiences were just as horrifying—and disturbingly commonplace.
It’s their stories that motivate GAIN’s lawyers. “It goes to the reason many people went to law school,” Khant says. “You go to fight for justice and freedom, and when you work on these cases, it brings you back to that.”